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Your hands are one of the busiest parts of your body. So when their skin is dry and cracked, it can be hard to ignore.

Chances are good your environment plays a leading role in your dry hands. Winter winds can dehydrate skin; cold and flu season means washing up frequently; and some careers may involve constant exposure to skin-parching chemicals or repeated submersion in water.

We can't banish winter or stop washing our hands. But we can give them softening nourishment with the right skin care routine and right products.

Tips to Treat Chronic Dry Hands

  • Protect your hands. Protection is key. Wear rubber or latex gloves when you're exposed to irritants.
  • Wash up wisely.  Never skimp on cleanliness even if you have chronically dry hands. Regular, thorough hand washing is one of the best ways to foil flu, steer clear of colds, and avoid a host of other contagious illnesses.The key is to wash gently. Opt for warm water -- hot water strips the skin of its natural, protecting oils. The tops of dry hands are especially parched. Some dermatologists suggest scrubbing just your palms when washing if your hands are particularly dry.
  • Use a gentle cleanser. Avoid using deodorant, antibacterial, foaming, or heavily scented soaps, all of which may contain additives that strip fats from your skin. These fats help hold in much-needed water. Look for moisturizing soaps or opt for a soapless cleanser. You'll also want to steer clear of alcohol-based toners and astringents as well as products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (found in some anti-aging creams), which can lead to irritated, dry skin.
  • Moisturize your hands often. Moisturizing is a vital part of relieving achy, dry skin. Establish a moisturizing routine for after each hand washing or any time your hands feel itchy or dry. But not just any moisturizer will do. Some are made mostly of water and so do not help lock in moisture. Focus instead on oil-based moisturizers. Ointments tend to be the oiliest emollients, followed by creams. Lotions contain the most water. A moisturizer doesn't have to be expensive to be good. Look for products with at least one or some of the following:

    • Petroleum jelly (petrolatum), mineral oil, and lanolin, all of which trap water in the skin
    • Lactic acid and urea, which can help soothe severely dry skin
    • Glycerin and dimethicone, which draw water to the skin
    • Hyaluronic acid, which can help skin retain moisture

  • Wear gloves.  We use our hands all day every day, so it's hard to make moisturizers stay put. That's why it’s a good idea to moisturize well at night as you wind up your day. Wear cotton gloves for 30 minutes or more to help retain your preferred emollient.

When to See a Dermatologist

If your hands are still dry despite following these tips, it may be time to talk to a dermatologist.

A dermatologist will determine whether your dry skin is caused by an underlying condition like eczema and can also prescribe stronger ointments and creams to help treat dry, irritated skin.