By Cynthia Bailey MD. This page was updated on Mon, Oct 14, 2019
Using the right products for hand dermatitis treatment is really important to healing chapped hands and hand eczema. If you have chapped hands, you know how your skin craves the right hand cream. You also know how your skin stings and itches when you use the wrong soap or hot water when you wash your hands. Learn how to care for your hard working hands so the skin can stand up to use, allowing your hands to be 'handy'.
Dermatologist explains hand dermatitis and how to treat and heal it.
Hand dermatitis is eczema on the hands. There are 3 types of hand eczema:
Irritant hand dermatitis
This form of hand eczema is due to hand skin coming into contact with harsh chemicals, solvents, soaps, hand sanitizers and environmental conditions (such as weather) that damage your tough hand skin barrier. Skin barrier is composed of a brick and mortar structure with protein filled dead cells embedded in lipid mortar. The integrity of this structure is important for healthy hands. Exposure to the harsh chemicals and environmental conditions that I mentioned will strip important skin oil and damage skin protein. This leads to barrier loss. Skin becomes itchy, dry, painful and can ultimately fissure into painful cracks due to thickened finger and palm skin. This is the classic type of chapped hands and dishpan hands.
Allergic hand dermatitis
This form of hand eczema is a contact allergic dermatitis that happens when your hand skin comes into contact with something it is allergic to, such as plants such as poison oak and ivy, some flowers (such as tulips, alstroemeria and primrose), metal, glue, dyes, and other allergens). The dermatitis tends to be more itchy than painful. Blisters can develop and become very large. Skin may crack and thicken.
Dyshidrotic hand eczema
Is a form of hand and foot eczema that is also called pompholyx. It can be inherited or not. Deep-seated, small painful and itchy blisters form on the palms and soles, and sides of the fingers and toes. The blisters are often clustered together. The thick skin cracks and hurts. Blisters form spontaneously and take several weeks to a month to heal. The cause is unknown.
Hand skin is very sensitive when you have hand dermatitis.
All the forms of hand dermatitis share in common that the skin barrier is broken. That means allergens and irritants in soaps, shampoo and hair care products, home cleaners, chemicals, and solvents seep into skin easily and make the rash worse. Skin affected by hand dermatitis needs special care to heal. Once the skin barrier is broken by hand dermatitis, you need to meticulously protect your hand skin from contact with harsh soaps and chemicals in order for it to heal.
How do you heal hand dermatitis?
The key to healing hand dermatitis is to restore skin barrier. What you touch and apply to your hands is as important as what you avoid touching.
- Avoid hand skin contact with all harsh soaps, chemicals and weather.
- Wash hands with only gentle, hypoallergenic, non-drying soaps.
- Apply a healing hypoallergenic and rich hand cream right after toweling hands dry after washing. The more frequently you apply hand cream the better. It does not need to be greasy, but it needs the right ingredients as I describe below.
- Wear gloves when outdoors in harsh weather or doing hand work with harsh soaps (like dish soap), chemicals or solvents.
Get everything you need to heal and help prevent hand dermatitis in my Dry Hand Skin Repair Kit. These are the products that I use to keep my own hard working and sensitive hands comfortable.
Stubborn hand dermatitis may also require medical care and prescription creams to fully heal.
What are the best hand creams to help heal hand dermatitis?
There are two functional types of hand creams for healing hand dermatitis.
The first healing hand cream to treat hand dermatitis is a hydrating AND protecting cream for frequent daily use.
It should contain an ingredient in the silicone family that layers a protective layer of hypoallergenic film on your skin to help seal and protect your hand skin to promote healing. This cream needs to be non-greasy and easy to live with on your hands. An excellent example is my Dry Skin Hand Cream, a favorite in my practice, always present in the pocket of my lab coat, and at every sink in my home.
I just got this product. I figured I'd give it a try because I'm tired of my skin hurting from being dry. It's great!!! It's better than I'd hoped because I thought it would be greasy even though it's not supposed to be (I didn't believe it). Guess what?! It's not greasy! I'll be getting it again. - Kate
The second healing hand cream to treat hand dermatitis is a deeply hydrating hand cream or ointment.
It will be greasy and needs to be applied liberally. For this reason, covering your hands with cotton gloves in my kit will help to keep the cream on your hands and off your things, is essential! Bedtime is a convenient time to give your hands this deeply hydrating hand treatment and Bag Balm is the best deeply hydrating ointment for those who are not allergic to wool (lanolin). This comes in my kit. It helps heal fissures and softens cracked and inflamed skin.
My Natural Hand and Body Lotion and Natural Butter Cream and also deeply hydrating. The Lotion is a convenient option to place by the sink for those who want entirely natural personal care products.
I have treated so many people for hand dermatitis in my 30+ dermatology career and so I have the perfect hypoallergenic hand care products. Find my favorite hand cream for daytime use, and deeply hydrating products for bedtime. I also have the best therapeutic cotton gloves, and a gentle foaming hand cleanser. Find these products and my hand care kits below.
Dermatologist's 7 tips to heal hand dermatitis
- Know that all hand creams work best when applied RIGHT AFTER water contact. Keep your hand creams handy – such as next to your sinks or in your purse.
- Apply hand cream often throughout the day, and at bedtime when your hands will be resting.
- Applying hand cream to dry hands does not work as well as applying after washing, but it is better than nothing.
Keep gentle, hypoallergenic hand soaps near your most commonly used sinks to avoid using harsh soaps or hand cleansers in a hurry. My top recommendation is my Natural Foaming Hand Soap which is easily rinsed off skin to prevent soap residue from pulling out skin lipids. I keep a bottle at every sink and I give them as gifts because the right hand soap makes a huge difference for preventing chapped hands for every one.
- Minimize exposure to hand sanitizers, which typically contain 60% or more alcohol; alcohol strips precious hand lipids and can damage barrier protein. These will slow healing of hand dermatitis. It's best to wash with my Foaming Hand Soap while hand dermatitis heals.
- Wear rubber gloves when you plan to touch harsh soaps or chemicals. Wear winter gloves when your plan to expose hands to harsh weather that will pull water out of the layers of your hand skin, slowing the process of healing.
- Sun protect the back of your hand skin with hypoallergenic sunscreens. The best choice are mineral zinc oxide sunscreens. Since hands are washed often, consider using water resistant sunscreens for protecting your hand skin.
Does exposing your hand to certain things cause severe chapping?
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.
What are the 4 worst things that dry your hand skin and cause chapping?
- Harsh soaps – like dish washing soap. This pulls out precious skin lipids, resulting in damage to your skin barrier. Use easy-rinse foaming products and be sure to remove ALL soap residue. If you don't, it will continue to pull out precious skin lipids even after you have walked away from the sink.
- Hot water – 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. Winter weather always stresses hand skin because of the temperature extremes, the lack of indoor humidity and the chilling outdoor windy air.
Dermatologist-recommended hand cream and soap kits to heal and prevent hand chapping
I am such a hand skin care fanatic that I've created two simple hand care kits. They have the right foaming hand soap that rinses off entirely and the best hand creams. In addition to my Dry Hand Skin Repair Kit that I mentioned above I have 2 other hand care kits:
A final note about healing hand dermatitis:
All hand creams work best when applied RIGHT AFTER water contact from washing. Therefore, keeping a tube of hand cream at the sink you use the most. Keep another at your desk, in your purse, car, work bag or where ever is convenient so that you can apply cream right after washing many times a day until your hand skin is healed.