Dry Cracked Hands, Chapped Hands

Why do we get chapped hands?Because we've got dry cracked hands.Why do we get dry hands?

In higher latitudes, away from the equator toward either the North Pole or the South Pole, people often notice their skin drying out in winter. Chapped lips and dry cracked hands. Cold air can hold less moisture than the same volume of warm air. Cold outdoor air chills and dries exposed skin. It's worse in a wind. Indoors, that dry, cold outdoor air has been brought into your living or working quarters and heated up. Without deliberately added moisture, the air that was already rather dry at low temperature becomes increasingly parched as it warms. Warm air is able to hold more moisture than cold, and it takes that moisture from available sources like your skin, and throat and nose and lips.

Skin under clothing is generally less affected. Dry cracked hands and chapped lips occur because your hands and lips are constantly touching things and having the protective outer layers of skin oils scraped or washed off.

When your lips get chapped, it's uncomfortable and even painful. You can ease the problem with lip-balms.

But this page is about hands

When the skin on your hands - usually the backs - gets dry and crispy, it loses resiliency; it often cracks where it is flexed and stretched most frequently, which means over the knuckles.

If it hasn't happened, and you are already into winter, then prevent it before it happens... drying and chapping of hands... not winter.

Well, ok, you could try preventing winter - that's what trips toward the equator are for. If you have the money, there's nothing so good for preventing dry chapped hands (or chapped lips, too) quite like a sunny vacation at a nice island resort. And repeat. As often as it takes.

But, if you have to stay around for most of winter, then prevention is best, and treatment is ... well... second-best.

Guys who work outdoors in winter (examples might be linesmen, farmers, heavy-equipment mechanics, among many others) often have tried-and-true ways of taking care of their hands. They make their livelihoods with those hands, and they can't afford damage or impairment. So they do what they can to prevent dry cracked hands, before the problem starts.

Take the hint. If you are an office worker, then chapped hands, split, inflamed knuckles are just an annoyance and an inconvenience. You aren't grinding dirt and nasty stuff into the open wounds as part of your work, so you probably don't risk major infection and disability. But hell, why should you go 'round all winter with the backs of your dry cracked hands split, bleeding, and flaking all over your keyboard?

Is it time for a story?

Your writer, here, doesn't really work for a living - "a technical writer is working even when he's staring into space" (I live by that...) - but he did manage to get a bit chapped, and he also [foolishly?] decided that it would be a good idea to do push-ups and back stretches (cobra pose) on his knuckles, just like the tough guys. Even on carpet, that's not a good idea when you are mashing cracked, dry, vulnerable skin into whatever dirt is on that floor (pet dander, people dander, cookie crumbs, old farts... that dog is evil ... no foolin').

Anyway, constant [re]application of moisturizing lotion was helping, but not quite doing the trick. What did work for his dry cracked hands (mostly the knuckles) was applying anti-biotic ointment day and night for about 3 days. If he recalls correctly, it was Ozonol, or maybe Neosporin, but any equivalent would be greasy enough and ... well... anti-biotic enough to keep the skin from further drying and cracking, and to fend off the bugs while the cracks closed up and began healing.

When you are young and your skin is supple, you might find that chapped and dry cracked hands can heal on their own, but the older you get, the longer the problem lingers, until it can last right through summer and into the next winter.

Oh. And stop doing push-ups on your knuckles until they heal, ok? Be a tough guy later. There'll be time.

This is actually more important than we're making it sound. Too many people get crippled by arthritis in the joints of their hands (among other places, but you use your hands more than any other part of you). Regardless of its cause, arthritis is inflammation. Don't encourage infection immediately next to those joints. One kind of infection and inflammation has a way of inviting another kind. Prevent or treat dry chapped hands.

But it's messy

Yeah. Mostly we find that when we get dry cracked hands, it's the backs, not the palms. Palms of hands and the working surfaces of fingers are served by tougher skin. If that's cracking, you've really got a problem.

Assuming it's just the backs of knuckles, the areas around your cuticles, etc., then put a glob of lotion on the back of one hand and use the back of the other hand to spread it out and work it into the skin. That avoids getting it onto your palms and the pads of your fingers, which in turn keeps it out of equipment, off of keyboards, off of touch-pads and touch-screens, off of your pants, off of doorknobs - don't you hate grabbing a greasy doorknob after some dork (or dorkette) has slimed it with their (usually over-scented and unmanly) goops and creams? So do we. Find out who does that and kill them quietly.

Whoah! Did we say that out loud?

Oh. Sorry. Forget you heard/read that. Just move on.

Anyway, just like with the knuckles, if the skin around your fingernails is dry and cracked to the point of bleeding, use some antibiotic ointment instead of the moisturizing lotion, at least until the redness and fissures subside - should be less than a week, if you are diligent.

Any recommendations for moisturizers?

Well, most of them work to some extent. Try 'em until you find one or two that you can live with. Avoid, if you can, any that have strong scents. Either you'll smell like a girl, or you'll have some overpowering stench that sends somebody into a coughing fit whenever your hands are near.

We tried the Neutrogena nordic goop - forget the exact name, but they used images of North Sea fishermen. It was horrible. It had a very thick, sticky consistency - seeming to remain on, rather than sinking into the skin. And it had a scent that just burned the nose whenever the hands drifted close. Woke us up from a sound sleep a few times.

Come to think of it, it was almost like Chap Stik but with a penetrating smell. Not recommended. And we really do like other Neutrogena products... just not that one. Having that stuff on our hands was more unpleasant than having open wounds and inflammation on our dry cracked hands.

If it's your lips that are all reddened, fissured, sore, split, find some relief on our

chapped lips and dry lips page.

In fact, go to that page right now for our discussion of humidifiers, which are a big help in preventing dry cracked hands and chapped anything. No sense repeating that text here, boring you and annoying the search engines... right?

Click here to return to the homepage from this dry cracked hands page.

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