Best Moisturizing Ingredients for Dry and Chapped Hands

woman using hand lotion

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Dry, chapped hands can make cold months tough to bear, and many people find it's a bigger problem as they get older. While lots of creams and lotions boast "extreme" or "ultimate" hydrating powers, certain ingredients in moisturizers are more effective than others when it comes to healing finger cracks and other symptoms of chapped skin.

What to Look For

When buying a moisturizer, seek out products that contain ingredients known to soothe dry skin. Many moisturizers combine emollients, occlusives, and humectants. All of these properties work together in improving skin’s moisture.

Occlusives tend to be oil-based and prevent moisture loss from the skin’s surface. Because they're usually greasy, they are often paired with other emollient and humectant ingredients that help the product absorb more easily and bring moisture to the skin.

Humectants increase the water content of the outer layers of the skin by pulling moisture from the air and from the deeper layers of skin. Used on their own, humectants could make the skin drier by drawing water into the upper layer of skin where it can easily evaporate. They’re usually paired with occlusive ingredients to help trap that moisture in the upper layer of skin.

Emollients soften the skin and cover small skin fissures by providing a protective layer over the skin. Some humectants and occlusives are also considered emollients as they enhance the skin’s smoothness.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), some of the best moisturizing ingredients to heal and protect the dry skin on hands are:

Occlusives: 

  • Petrolatum (a.k.a. petroleum jelly)
  • Mineral oil*
  • Shea butter*
  • Lanolin*
  • Dimethicone (a type of silicone)*

Humectants:

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin*
  • Lactic acid (note: may sting when applied to broken skin)
  • Urea*

*These ingredients are also considered emollients.

Opt for fragrance- and dye-free options if you have sensitive skin, as they are less irritating.

When deciding which hand moisturizer to use, consider consistency, too. A thick cream or ointment with a higher oil content offers more staying power compared to a lotion, which is thinner.

Preventing Chapped Hands

Using moisturizers regularly, even before your hands get dry, is key to preventing chapped hands. Apply moisturizer several times throughout the day and before going to bed. Frequent use can strengthen the skin’s barrier and repair cracked skin.

To help get the most benefit:

  • Use a moisturizing cream each time you wash your hands. Frequent washing is good for preventing colds and the flu, but it can also strip our skin of the natural oils that keep our hands soft.
  • For extra moisturizing at night, put a thick hand cream or ointment on your hands and cover them with cotton gloves before going to bed. The gloves will help your hands to absorb more of the ingredients. Ointments have more oil, which means they're greasier, but they're more effective in trapping moisture and healing hands.
  • In the wintertime, the dry air causes moisture to evaporate from the top layer of your skin faster than usual. In those cold months, look for a thick hand cream with an occlusive like shea butter or petrolatum to lock moisture and form a protective barrier. When the weather isn't as dry, you might opt for a lotion with a thinner consistency.

If you still have problems with dry skin after you try these tips, talk to your dermatologist. By preventing dry skin before it starts, you can keep your hands soft and healthy throughout the year.

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Article Sources

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  1. Purnamawati S, Indrastuti N, Danarti R, Saefudin T. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. 2017;15(3-4):75-87. doi:10.3121/cmr.2017.1363

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