As winter nears, many of us deal with the effects that the colder weather has on our skin. One of the most common skin complaints in the cool months is dry, chapped hands that feel rough, painful, or sore. The cold weather seems to make them worse, not to mention regular handwashing that leaves the skin feeling parched and sensitive. So, what causes your skin to react this way, and what you should use to soothe and restore chapped hands?

In the late fall, winter, and early spring, there's often less moisture in the atmosphere and such weather further strips the skin of the hydration it needs. You likely also spend more time indoors, taking comfort in the warmth of your centrally heated home. The bad news is that artificial heat is another skin dehydrator that can exacerbate dry, cracked hands and make them more prone to dehydration.

Sound familiar? Let's take a look at what to use on chapped hands in the winter and how to restore your skin with softness and comfort.

1. Wash Your Hands with Moisturizing Cleansers

As everyone knows, regular handwashing is vital in keeping germs and viruses at bay, but it can also make hand dryness worse. You may find that this is particularly rife if you work in a profession where you need to wash your hands every few minutes, such as in a hospital or kitchen.

According to Harvard Medical School, frequent exposure to water, drying alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and oil-stripping soaps can all diminish the healthy fatty compounds in the top layer of skin. This weakens the natural skin barrier, which works to keep moisture in and infection out, and the skin becomes irritated as a result. This also causes cracks and breaks in the skin to appear.

The solution? Wash your hands with gentle and moisturizing soaps formulated with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerine. Harvard Medical School also suggests looking for soaps containing gentle, natural ingredients such as jojoba oil, avocado oil, and shea butter, which are all super hydrating. This will help to add vital lipids back into your skin every time you wash.

2. Restore Lost Lipids with a Moisturizing Lotion

Once you've diligently washed your hands using a moisturizing cleanser, it's important to restore lost lipids with a moisturizer or lotion. If your skin is very dry, you should use a very rich moisturizer containing mineral oils and ceramides. Less severe cases of hand dryness will find a good quality lightweight lotion sufficient.

EltaMD Skin Restore Body Cream, for example, brings long-lasting relief to dry and itchy skin while also helping to retain moisture throughout the day. Apply it when your skin is still slightly damp to further lock in hydration and leave your hands soft and comfortable.

3. Protect Yourself When Handling Harsh Chemicals or Detergents

If you work in an occupation such as healthcare, hairdressing, or food preparation, you may have to use harsh chemicals on a daily basis. This can leave your hands more prone to dryness, chapping, and even to infection and conditions like dermatitis.

The best way to protect your hands from this kind of damage is by wearing protective gloves wherever possible, such as when washing up with detergents or handling strong chemicals. You should also moisturize several times throughout the day.

4. Treat Chapped Hands with an Intensive Overnight Moisturizer

Although moisturizing your hands can provide instant comfort, you may not like the feeling of having rich emollients on your skin when trying to go about your day. You may also find that you wash your hands so frequently that the moisturizer barely has time to take action.

If this sounds like you, consider applying a really intensive moisturizer just before bed. This is a great time to apply very thick and occlusive ointments as they have time to sink deeply into the skin while you sleep. You can also put on some light cotton gloves to really lock in moisture and give your hands a really intensive treatment.

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

So, now you know a little more about what causes hand dryness and how best to treat your chapped hands as you await the warmer, gentler weather. Don't forget that often it's the small changes that make the biggest difference over time, so why not consider keeping a travel-size hand lotion in your handbag? It's a great way of topping up your moisture levels on the go.

Try to swap out harsh, alcohol-based hand sanitizers for those with more gentle and moisturizing formulas. These small daily habits will keep your hands soft and beautiful throughout the year and keep chapping under control.


  • Catherine Hufton

    Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.

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