Dry hands? Try these winter skin care tips

Winter can be rough on the skin – especially the hands, which are often exposed to the colder, more severe weather.  An NYC-based dermatologist shared her tips for keeping your hands healthy and smooth through the season.

“During the winter, the decrease in humidity, as well as the harsher winds, causes us to lose a lot of water in our skin, so that makes everything dry,” explained Dr. Anne Chapas, the medical director at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City.

“Once our skin is dry, it’s more prone to letting irritants and other harmful substances in, which causes redness and other problems.”

Naturally, one of the best ways to combat skin dryness and irritation is to use moisturizers.  But first, Chapas said, it is important to distinguish between the two different classes of moisturizers.

The first class, called humectants, brings water into the skin, while the second class, called emollients, seals the water in.  For colder, drier months, Chapas said people should turn to emollients.

“Emollients are heavier, thicker, greasier lotions that contain ingredients like dimenthicone and lanolin,” Chapas said.  “You should use them especially at night before bed and after taking a shower.”

In addition to moisturizers, Chapas recommended products like Vaseline and Skinfood by Weleda to treat dry skin.

“I find Skinfood is really nice for hands,” Chapas said.  “It essentially repairs the skin barrier to prevent water from evaporating.”

Sleeping in cotton gloves after applying lotion or these other products can also help seal moisture into skin.

“Cotton is very breathable, and it helps moisturizers penetrate into the skin better,” Chapas said.

To prevent dryness from occurring in the first place, Chapas said people should try to limit excess hand washing in favor of using alcohol-based sanitizers, because soaps and other detergents can be drying.  When it is necessary to wash your hands, use lukewarm water instead of hot.

For hands that have been severely affected by winter weather – think red, ashy and cracked – applying lotions and other skin products can be irritating, even painful.  Chapas said covering the cracks with liquid bandages can help with the stinging.

“For really bad, cracked, fissured hands, skin glues can be helpful,” she said. “Band-Aid makes a liquid bandage that can heal the skin.”

However, if the problem is not going away, or spreading, it may be a sign of a more serious condition, like psoriasis or eczema.

“If you’re using moisturizers, and the condition is still spreading, and your skin is cracked, see a physician,” Chapas warned. “Don’t try to treat it at home.”