Does exposing your hand to certain things cause severe chapping?
It’s mid-winter and many people’s hands are chapped about now. Once your hands become dry and chapped, your skin gets worse and worse when exposed to products and conditions that continue to pull out skin lipids and water, resulting in a denatured barrier protein. Skin lipids and water are the key elements of skin barrier health.
The top most common products and conditions that your hands should avoid include:
- Harsh soaps – like dish washing soap. This pulls out precious skin lipids, resulting in damage to your skin barrier
- Hot water – again, this gets grease off the pots and pans, but it also pulls out precious skin lipids
- Solvents such as alcohol (think hand sanitizers), acetone (nail polish remover) – these pull out lipids and can denature protein in your skin barrier.
- Hot air (like the car heater turned on cold hands) – this pulls out skin water, dehydrating your skin, leading to rough and tight feeling skin
The medical name for dry and chapped hands is really ‘irritant hand dermatitis’.
Your hand skin is thick and designed to take abuse. The outer barrier is a brick and mortar structure of dead cells filled with keratin protein (the bricks) in a mortar of lipid. Once this structure starts to break down the damage snowballs from dryness to chapping to hurting and cracking.
In talking about this post with my husband, he confessed to having gone even one better with a big ‘no-no’ hand exposure. He recently got his hands into tractor grease (we have a vineyard). He couldn’t get the grease off with harsh soap so he used gasoline. He couldn’t get the gasoline off with the harsh soap so he used Comet! Yep – a total chain of hand disaster. He survived because he started this misadventure with skin that was in good shape. Had he done this to chapped hands I would have heard about the symptoms instead of the curious story.
Bottom line: take good care of your hands so that they can stand up to the occasional insult. Once chapping starts, protect them until they’ve healed – which can take months to rebuild that thick brick and mortar barrier integrity.
What products do I use in my dermatology practice, and do my husband and I use personally, to maintain healthy hands?
I’ve also got my Dry Hand Skin Repair Kit for gardening season, which is when my hands start to cry out for TLC.