How to Cope With Painful, Dry, and Cracked Hands

As you age, you may notice that your hands become drier and crack more easily. They may also become red and peel. These are all signs of dry skin.

Cracks in your fingers can make even the simplest tasks, such as typing, turning a page, or buttoning your shirt, very painful.

In the medical field, dry skin is known as xerosis. It is often a natural part of aging, though it can also be an early sign of dermatitis. This skin irritation has three types, and they all cause dry, itchy skin and sometimes a rash.

This article explains the symptoms and causes of dry hands, what you can do to get relief, and what you should know before using super glue products on cracked hands.

coping with dry cracked hands

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Symptoms

The most common signs of severely dry skin are rough, flaky, or scaly skin. You might also notice that your skin is red. If you have darker skin, it may appear gray. An itchy feeling is common, too.

If your skin becomes too dry, the cracks may bleed. Then the pain may intensify to the point that it wakes you up in the middle of the night.

Worse, your hands could become infected if bacteria enter the open skin. 

Causes

As people age, their skin becomes thinner and drier and produces less oil. The sun, wind, and other elements take their toll, too.

Still, some people are more prone to develop severely dry skin, says Dr. Barbara Reed, a dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado.

“Some people just make less oil in their skin, and others are more sensitive to chemicals,” she said. “If you have a tendency towards eczema or come from an allergic family, you may have very sensitive skin that reacts to chemicals like preservatives and fragrances, which can exacerbate skin rashes and dryness.”

People with psoriasis are prone to severely dry skin. So are people who wash their hands often, such as nurses, cooks, and even crafters.

People who regularly expose their skin to chemicals are very likely to see their hands turn dry and cracked.

Treatment

The best treatment, Reed says, is prevention. If possible, avoid over-washing, especially with lathering soaps, which can contain chemical detergents that can further dry out the skin.

Moisturize several times a day with a thick emollient (lubricating) hand cream or lotion. Look for ingredients like petrolatum, wax, and shea butter.

A gentle hypoallergenic cleanser like Cetaphil tends to irritate skin less than soaps that contain lathering detergents.

Keep in mind, though, that Cetaphil won’t kill bacteria or viruses. So if you're concerned about spreading the flu or other germs, use an anti-bacterial gel or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as well.

If your job requires frequent hand washing or wet work, wear latex or vinyl gloves to protect your skin. For dry work like gardening, wear cloth gloves.

Other tips may soothe your skin, too:

  • Apply moisturizer as soon as you get out of the shower or bath.
  • Avoid products that contain artificial fragrance, which can irritate skin.
  • Turn on a humidifier to keep moisture in the air.

As you get older, you may have to make adjustments to your daily routine, such as:

  • Spending less time in the sun
  • Applying sunscreen when you do
  • Taking shorter and cooler showers and baths
  • Drinking more liquids
  • Giving up smoking

"Our skin gets lazy about making as much oil as we get older," Reed said. "So overall, dry skin can become much more severe with time.”

Is Super Glue Safe?

Believe it or not, a popular solution for painful skin cracks is super glue. Containing adhesive chemicals called cyanoacrylates, super glue can be used for superficial cuts and cracks, Reed said.

Glue should never be used for deep wounds. And it can be poisonous if swallowed.

But it's "quick, easy, and stays where you put it” on cuts and cracks, Reed said. Just don't use it on a regular basis, because it, too, can dry out the skin.

She also urges caution about using so-called “liquid bandage” solutions.

“Many liquid bandage products contain too much alcohol for patients with skin that is already exceedingly dry," Reed said. "They can make the problem worse.”

A product called Dermabond was specifically designed to seal skin tissue. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved it for surgical use and superficial cuts.

Skin must be thoroughly cleaned before applying it to prevent infection. Ask your healthcare provider if they can recommend a similar product that is available over the counter if you want to use it regularly.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Reed recommends speaking to your dermatologist or healthcare provider if your hands are causing you great discomfort. And seek medical attention immediately if your hands are swollen, bleeding, have a honey-colored crust on any cracks, or if you see red streaks moving up your arm. These are symptoms of a more serious infection.

Don't let dry skin go unchecked by a medical professional. It can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as dermatitis, diabetes, or even kidney disease.

Summary

You know dry skin when you see it. It can become rough, flaky, and red. It can even bleed. Pinpointing a cause can be tricky because there could be several contributing factors, such as how often you wash your hands during the day and your age.

You can ease the discomfort by taking steps such as being vigilant about applying moisturizer and avoiding irritating chemicals. Many people turn to super glue to mend skin cracks. But do your research before you pick a product. And consult your healthcare provider for advice.

A Word From Verywell

It's only natural that your skin becomes drier as you age. And you may notice the change even more during the cold or winter months. Keep your skin moisturized. If using a moisturizer is a new habit for you, give it time to become part of your daily routine. You'll probably be glad you did.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes dry, cracked hands?

    Some people are prone to dry, cracked hands. Things that can contribute to dry hands include:

    • Aging
    • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers
    • Cold weather
    • Dermatitis
    • Eczema
    • Frequent hand washing
    • Low humidity
    • Psoriasis
    • Sensitivity to chemical ingredients in soaps and cleaners
    • Too much sun
    • Washing clothes or dishes by hand without wearing gloves


  • How are dry, cracked hands treated?

    Dry, cracked skin on your hands can usually be treated at home with a two-pronged approach of prevention and moisturizing. Don’t over-wash your hands, wear waterproof gloves when washing dishes or cleaning, and wear gloves outside in the winter. 

    Certain soaps are more drying than others. Opt for ones labeled for dry or sensitive skin and avoid any products containing artificial fragrances. 

    Moisturize your hands frequently throughout the day, especially after the shower or washing your hands. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or herbal tea. Use a humidifier around the house during the winter to combat dry air. 

  • What is the best lotion for dry, cracked hands?

    There is no one best lotion for everyone. Look for products that do not contain any artificial fragrances or are labeled for sensitive skin. Thicker lotions like shea butter or lanolin tend to work better for healing cracked skin than thinner formulations.

    The most important thing is to apply moisturizer frequently throughout the day. Some people find slathering lotion or petroleum jelly on at bedtime, then covering their hands with gloves or socks helps to repair dry, cracked skin faster. 

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mayo Clinic. Dermatitis. September 21, 2021.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Dry skin: Who gets and causes.

  3. National Institute on Aging. Skin care and aging. Updated October 1, 2017.

  4. National Kidney Foundation. 10 signs you may have kidney disease. December 17, 2020.