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How Do I Care for Cracked Dry Hands?

By Megan Shoop
Updated May 21, 2024
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Cracked dry hands usually occur most often in the winter months. The combination of cold temperatures and dry air may leach moisture from hands, leaving them chapped and irritated. This condition isn’t just uncomfortable, it is also unhealthy. Dry and bleeding hands can become infected and let illnesses into the body. When caring for dry, cracked hands, it is important to clean them carefully, infuse them with nutritious moisturizers, and protect them from further damage.

The first step in caring for cracked dry hands involves disinfecting them. This can be done with a gentle bar or liquid soap and warm, not hot, water. Unscented, alcohol-free soaps usually work best because artificial scents and rubbing alcohol may make the condition worse. If the hands have open sores, these must be gently cleaned with a damp cloth. The hands should then be dried on a clean, soft towel. If there is any bleeding, the person should wait for it to stop before proceeding with the next step.

Moisture is possibly the most important part of caring for cracked dry hands. Petroleum jelly, aloe vera gel, and vitamin E oil are all highly recommended moisturizers. Individuals should avoid scented lotions, opting instead for rich, thick, unscented formulas. Some may even prefer making their own lotion recipes by mixing 1 part each of petroleum jelly, aloe gel, and vitamin E oil. Chamomile extract and green tea powder may also be very soothing. Most homemade mixtures should be refrigerated, but allowed to warm to room temperature before use.

The chosen moisturizer should be spread thickly and evenly onto the cracked dry hands and covered with gloves. Cotton gloves work well, as do plastic gloves. Some people like to put plastic gloves on over the cotton gloves to help keep the hands warm and keep moisture from evaporating away from the hands. This is often best done right before bed so the person can wear the gloves overnight. Moisturizing the hands this way should become a ritual until they’re fully healed.

Another part of healing dry cracked hands is prevention. When the hands are healing, or after they’ve completely healed, individuals can prevent further damage by avoiding extreme temperatures and skin-drying activities. Knit gloves under leather work gloves should insulate the hands during outdoor activities. People who wash dishes by hand should wear rubber gloves for the job. General hand-washing should be done with lukewarm water and hands should be thoroughly dried afterward. Individuals should always moisturize their hands after exposing them to dry, cold, or hot air.

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Discussion Comments

By cloudel — On Feb 04, 2013

Prevention is definitely best. I learned that after my first experience with really dry cracked hands.

I hadn't been using lotion in the winter, but I decided to start. I had little cracks all over my hands that had begun to look red, like they were about to bleed. My skin looked flaky, so I knew it was too dry.

Now, every time that I wash my hands, I use lotion. At night when I'm just sitting around watching TV, I'll use a stronger oil or some petroleum jelly. I wipe it off before going to bed and put on some lotion that will absorb into my skin.

By Perdido — On Feb 03, 2013

@feasting – I use bandages, but I put antibiotic cream on my cracked spots first. This helps them heal faster.

I take off the bandages at night and just put the cream on while I sleep. My skin needs a little air in order to heal properly.

By feasting — On Feb 03, 2013

It's painful to even wash your hair when you have cracked hands. The shampoo gets into your cracks and burns a lot.

What's worse is trying to use nail polish remover with cracked hands! Get a little bit of that in your bloody spots and you'll wish you hadn't.

I have to use bandages on my cracked hands before doing anything like this. It's a pain, but at least it keeps my hands from burning.

By giddion — On Feb 02, 2013

I used to get cracked hands because of how often I had to wash them. I did a lot of painting and drawing with charcoal, and I had to wash the stuff off my hands several times during the process.

When you are working with charcoal or pastels, you have to use your fingers to smudge them and work them into the paper to create shadows and highlights. You have to wash your hands before switching colors to get the residue off, and this can lead to cracked dry hands quickly.

All I could do was cover them with lotion for cracked hands when I was done with a project for the day. I couldn't wear gloves while working, because I needed my fingers for smudging.

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