I wash my hands about sixty times a day, maybe more. This in combination with cold Pennsylvania fall air leads to chapped hands. It’s a sure sign winter is approaching when patients start to show me their raw hands. Here are the hands of a girl I saw a couple days ago.
To prevent dry hands:
• Don’t stop washing your hands, but do use a moisturizer afterwards.
• Whenever possible, use water and soap rather than hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizers are at minimum 60% alcohol- very drying.
• Wear gloves as much as possible even if the temperature is above freezing. Remember chemistry class, cold air holds less moisture than warm air and therefore is unkind to skin. Gloves will prevent some moisture loss.
• Before exposure to any possible irritants such as the chlorine in a swimming pool, protect the hands by layering heavy lotion (Eucerin cream) or petroleum based product (i.e. Vaseline or Aquaphor) over the skin.
To rescue dry hands:
• Prior to bed smother hands in 1% hydrocortisone ointment. Avoid the cream formulation. Creams tend to sting if there are any open cracks. Take old socks, cut out thumb holes and have your child sleep at night with the sock on his hands. Repeat nightly for a week or so. Alternatively, for mildly chapped hands, use a petroleum oil based product such as Vaseline or Aquaphor in place of the hydrocortisone.
• If your child has underlying eczema, prevent your child from scratching his hands. An antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or cetirizine (Zyrtec) will take the edge off the itch.
• For extremely raw hands, your child’s doctor may prescribe a stronger cream and if there are signs of a bacterial skin infection, your child’s doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
Happy moisturizing. Remember how much fun it was to smear glue on your hands and then peel off the dried glue? It’s not so fun when your skin really is peeling.
Naline Lai, MD