Dermatologist's Tips For Dry, Cracked Hands

dry and cracked hands

Is the Skin on Your Hands Chapped and Painful?

You use your hands constantly, and when your skin finally cracks and chaps, it affects almost everything you do. You can have healthy hand skin all year round if you understand what causes dry, cracked hands and what you need to do to prevent them.

How does the skin on your hands differ from the rest of your body?

Hand (and foot) skin is much thicker than skin on the rest of your body. That’s why it doesn’t get irritated right away when you touch harsh chemicals (like house cleaning products), and it doesn’t chap as quickly as other areas of your skin (like your face, when you are exposed to harsh weather).

What ingredients should you look for in hand creams and how often should you moisturize your hands?

It’s important to take good care of your hand skin, and that means using the right hand care products. This is especially true in the fall and winter when your hands are the most prone to chapping.  Use only gentle soaps to wash. And then, apply a good moisturizer immediately after drying your hands as often as you possibly can. Look for gentle cleansers that contain glycerin and moisturizers with glycerin, lanolin and rich hydrating oils.  I talk more about this below.

best hand soap and cream for dry cracked hands

I created my Survival Kit for Hands to take the guess work out of finding the best hand cream and hand soap to heal dry cracked hands. Keep the soap and cream at the sinks where you wash your hands and your extremely dry chapped hands will feel better quickly.

Perfect hand cream for relief from dry, irritated and rough skin!

This hand cream is the best I've ever used. It complements the foaming hydrating hand soap. My hands feel such relief after just using these products one time. Thank you for offering such excellent products at reasonable prices. - Rhonda H 

Learn more about healing dry cracked hands

Here are some important steps to keep your dry, cracked hands looking and feeling their best all year:

Dermatologist's 3 Hand Washing Tips to Avoid Drying-out Your Hand Skin

  1. Lather only the tougher dirty palm side of your hands. Unless the thinner skin on the back or your hands has also gotten dirty or has come into contact with germs, you want to avoid washing this thinner skin over and over throughout the day.
  2. Be sure to rinse off all hand soap really well. Hand soap that stays on your hands will pull out your skin oils and dry and irritate your skin. Pay special attention to the space between your fingers where soap residue often hides.
  3. dry chapped painful hand skin
    Use only very mild hand cleansers for hand washing. Remember, strong soaps like dish soap are harsh on the skin. Plus, adding oil or 'moisturizing ingredients' to a harsh soap doesn’t necessarily stop the soap from being harsh on your skin. My Naturally Best Bar Soap is a simple 'hand cleanser' solution that's safe for dry and cracked hands. This natural and fragrance-free soap is also allergen-free, economical and eco-friendly. It's ideal for even the most sensitive skin. The soap base cleans well but also rinses off your hands easily. This is important because retained soap residue pulls out the natural oils from your skin long after you've stepped away from the sink, compounding your chapping hand problem. 

Fact: Using a Hand Moisturizing Cream is Important to Prevent and Heal Chapped Hands

best hand cream to heal chapped hands

Moisturize your hands often with a good quality hand cream immediately after toweling dry.  It needs to be non-greasy so that you don't mind using it during the day.  My favorite is my Dry Skin Hand Cream, which I use all day long. This much-loved hand cream contains glycerin and dimethicone to hydrate and protect hand skin without giving you a greasy grip. I keep a tube at every sink in my home and in my lab-coat pocket at work.

Get both my favorite hand soap and hand cream in my Survival Kit for Busy Hands. These are products I use every day for my own busy hands - often!

best hand soap and lotion to prevent chapped hands

Applying hand cream to hands between washings is not as helpful as applying it right after washing!


dermatologist's tips to heal painful chapped hands

Don't bother applying hand cream if you haven't just gotten your hands wet. It makes your hands feel greasy and it won't work to moisturize your skin because moisturizers lock in the water that your hand skin just soaked up during washing. Apply the cream to your entire hand, but especially the back, which has thinner skin and is more likely to chap. Wipe off the excess cream from the palm side to keep from getting it on everything and having a slippery grip. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey

The most effective non-greasy hydrating ingredients for chapped hand skin are glycerin and lanolin. 

Get a heavy dose of glycerin in my non-greasy Dry Skin Hand Cream. It's the ideal hand cream for use during the day. 

At night, give severely chapped hands a real therapeutic hydrating treatment with a lanolin-rich and heavy product. 

Healing Night Treatment for Severely Chapped Hand Skin

Bag Balm 1 oz best hand moisturizer for extremely chapped handsBefore bed, soak your hands in warm (not hot) water for 5 minutes, towel dry and then apply a generous layer of a thick and rich, highly therapeutic ointment like Bag Balm (which contains lanolin from wool). In fact, I'm such a fan of Bag Balm that I've added this time-honored home remedy for chapped hands to my website.  Click here to see more about why I love Bag Balm. 

Cover your hands with cotton gloves to lock in the ointment, and wear the gloves overnight.

Get everything you need to heal dry chapped and painful hands in my dermatologist's Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit.

doctor's advice to heal dry chapped painful hands

I made this kit because this hand care routine is really important to keeping my busy and over-washed hands comfortable and chap-free.

What should you do to protect your dry, cracked hands if they are already severely chapped?

If you have chapped hands, you need to protect them from further irritation. This means wearing rubber gloves when you are touching irritating things like dish soap, house cleaners and even some foods like tomatoes, citrus etc.

A good rule of thumb (no pun intended) is that for contact with things that would be too harsh to apply to your facial skin, you need gloves to touch them with your chapped hands.

Yes, this is surprising and inconvenient. But, think about what you ask your hands to do over and over again! You use them like they are gloved to touch harsh chemicals. Normally, they can handle it because healthy hand skin is a pretty good barrier, but chapped skin is broken. Harsh chemicals get through chapped skin, irritating it (like putting lemon juice on a cut).

Your chapped hands just won’t heal unless you protect them until they are completely recovered.  This means that you need to keep using the gloves until the skin is entirely back to normal... plus at least a week or two. This is pretty inconvenient so it’s best to just take really good care of your hands before they become chapped by washing with gentle soaps, regularly moisturizing and not over using hand sanitizers.

dry skin hand repair kit

And, use my Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit. I've created a complete hand care kit to heal chapped hands and keep them healthy. I depend on it for my own hard-working hands. My kit has all the essential products you need. 

Chapping is one cause of hand dermatitis. There are other causes.

To learn more about hand dermatitis click here.  

Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.