Softer Hands, Stronger Nails

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 09, 2012
3 min read

Being good to your hands and nails is about having good daily habits and choosing the right products to use on them. A few small changes could make a difference in how your hands and nails look and feel.

WebMD asked dermatologists Jeffrey Dover, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, and Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, for guidance in knowing what's good for your hands.

Hand creams have as much to offer as face creams. Most also come in “quick absorbing” formulations so your hands won't feel greasy.

Some key ingredients include:

  • Retinol to keep skin moist
  • Peptides along with other ingredients such as B vitamins to relax muscles and boost collagen production to keep the skin on your hands smooth
  • Vitamin C and glycolic acid to help treat age spots, wrinkling, and loss of elasticity
  • Alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids to gently exfoliate your skin

You can get collagen treatments In a dermatologist's office that can reduce wrinkling. Such treatments are expensive, and there are over-the-counter hand creams that plump up the skin, helping make hands look more youthful. But the creams won't make as much difference as a dermatologist's treatment can.

Some hand creams and balms are labeled “intensive.” These products are made for extra dry or mature skin and are meant to be applied at night. Some of them have lightening agents that gradually fade age spots when used regularly.

Men’s hands have skin that tends to be thicker, hairier, and oilier than women’s. The skin may also be more callused and rougher. So there are special hand creams that are made for men. Those products -- made to prevent cracking -- are typically richer, and often come fragrance-free.

Just like with skin, it’s important for both men and women to protect the moisture in their nails. Dermatologists recommend rubbing petroleum jelly, vitamin E, or cuticle creams into your cuticles at night.

Applying a moisturizing cream or a hand balm to the nails on a daily basis will help keep them moist. And moisturizing products that contain urea, phospholipids, or lactic acid will help prevent cracking.

Buffing your nails boosts circulation to your nail bed. Just be gentle -- overdoing buffing is harmful.

Massaging your fingertips every day will increase circulation to the skin around your nails to keep it healthy and prevent it from cracking and peeling away. Eating foods rich in calcium will help keep your nails healthy. Some beauty experts recommend taking supplements of the B vitamin biotin to treat brittle fingernails. There is, though, little scientific evidence to support that recommendation.

Follow these tips to help your hands and nails stay in top shape.

1. Wear sunscreen. The delicate skin of your hands needs protection from the sun. Some creams combine advanced sun protection with moisturizing agents and are non-greasy and quick absorbing.

2. Care for cracks. If you are prone to developing eczema or if you have dry skin, you may develop cracks or fissures in the crevices between your fingers. Moisturize each day and each night and ask your dermatologist about creams and hand oils that could help.

3. Wear gloves when doing the dishes. If your hands are in water often, wear gloves to help keep the nails from becoming brittle. Your nails can absorb up to a quarter of their weight in water, and that causes them to expand. But when they dry, they contract. Constant expansion and contraction can weaken the nail.

4. Consider a ridge-filler. Deeply ridged nails make it difficult to apply nail polish, and some women attempt to remedy the situation by buffing the ridges out. But excessive buffing only weakens the nail. Elle, a celebrity manicurist for Barielle Cosmetics, recommends using a ridge filler that temporarily fills in the ridges.

Finally, take it easy. Avoid products such as polish removers that contain acetone or formaldehyde, which can dry out nails.