Winter, heat, water, dry air, lots of handwashing, soap and sanitizer. A normal day in our life can really take its toll on our poor hands! Washing our hands is a habit we hardly think about, but what about moisturizing our hands? Many of us tend to forget this and our hands will not be late to tell us. Dryness, itching, stinging and sometimes cracks that hurt and just won’t heal. Ouch!
Why does washing and sanitizing my hands make them so dry?
The reason your hands become so dry is that soap and sanitizer not only effectively kill unwanted germs and viruses that sit on your hands, they also kill the important and good bacteria that you naturally have on your skin. The thousands of bacteria we have on your skin are important because they provide and bind moisture. These good bacteria simply prevent the skin from getting dry. Added to that, lots of soap and sanitizer also destroy the fats that we have naturally in your skin. When your important fat layer – that protects and helps the skin retain important moisture – is impaired, your hands get dry.
How can I heal my hands again?
When washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer, you need to use a good hand cream. If you don’t, you can potentially develop cracks where bacteria can enter and, in the worst case, cause an infection.
Of course, it is best to start with preventative care to avoid getting very dry hands. But if the damage is done, it is important that you start using a generous amount of hand cream after each hand wash and after each time you use hand sanitizer.
How do I find a good hand cream?
What you need is a very rich, oily cream with emollients that give your hands a protective layer and prevent the water from evaporating. We also need to add moisture, the cream must contain humectants that sink into the top layer of skin and bind the moisture there.
To find a hand cream that contains effective emollients and humectants, it is important to read the ingredients list (INCI) thoroughly. Here are a few golden rules to follow:
- Less is more - look for a minimalistic ingredients list. A few effective ingredients are better than a parade of extracts, actives and so on. These ingredients may sound cool, but your hands won’t care! A maximum of about 20 basic ingredients is a good rule of thumb.
Avoid perfumed products, even those with essential oils. Dry and chapped hands are especially sensitive to such ingredients that might just further irritate the skin.
- Avoid jar packaging. Hand creams coming in jar packaging require more preservatives since you put your fingers in them, maybe daily, and preservatives are irritating to the skin. Look for pumps or tubes instead.
What ingredients should I look for?
To reduce water evaporation from the skin and retain moisture in the skin, an occlusive (barrier forming) ingredient is required. It can be oils or other fats like butters or waxes. Some oils to look for in the ingredients list (INCI) are Rapeseed oil and other vegetable oils, Shea butter and other butters, waxes, mineral oils and silicones. Mineral oils and silicones get a lot of criticism because they are not biodegradable and therefore not the best for the environment, but they are cheap and very effective for dry skin and therefore used frequently by manufacturers. You will find mineral oils in the ingredients list as Mineral oil, Petrolatum, Paraffin and Vaseline. Silicones in the ingredients list are called Dimethicone or Siloxane (and all other that end in -cone and -oxane).
It is also good to look for skin lipids, i.e. lipids that the skin produces itself, that you lack when you have dry skin. These are Omega 6 (INCI: Linoleic acid), Omega 3 (Linolenic acid), Squalane, Cholesterol and ceramides (Ceramide).
Your hand cream should also contain humectants, ingredients that bind moisture, to be effective. Look for Glycerine, Sorbitol, Xylitol, PCA salts, Betaine and Lactic acid. Sugar and salts also bind moisture. Another good ingredient that goes by two INCI-names is Urea or Carbamide.
In addition, Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is also often used because the ingredient is skin barrier strengthening.
To clarify, your hand cream does not need to contain all these ingredients! Just a few of each, and water, is enough for the hand cream to be effective.
Are expensive hand creams better, or maybe natural hand creams?
The expensive brands often contain many ingredients, and too much perfume and preservatives. There are many hand creams that are tested specifically for sensitive skin and are affordable. Unfortunately, many of them are still based on mineral oils and silicones, which means limited biodegradability. So, they are good for the hands but not great for the environment.
The problem is that many creams with a focus on biodegradability are formulated with perfumes and natural essential oils which can increase the sensitivity of the skin, especially when it is dry. More skincare companies should focus on products for sensitive skin, thinking both about the environment and the skin!
To sum it up, look for a minimalistic hand cream with a few effective ingredients. Apply your hand cream generously every time after washing your hands and don't wait until they get too dry. And keep in mind, natural or expensive creams are not always the best.