Dry, cracked skin on the hands – What causes it, and what’s the best way to treat it?

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Why is caring for our hands so important?

Our hands are always busy: there’s no other part of our body we use more. All this hard work puts the skin on our hands under pressure, plus it is rarely covered and so is directly exposed to harmful external irritants such as cold, heat, frequent hand washing, pollution and dirt. These can all weaken skin’s natural barrier and cause our hands to dry out.

What are the signs and symptoms of dry hands?

Dry skin on the hands usually first appears on the knuckles

The signs and symptoms of dry hands vary depending on the severity and cause of dryness:

  • In its mildest form, hands feel dry and sensitive. They may be slightly red due to their heightened sensitivity
  • In more severe cases hands can feel very dry and rough. Skin may be covered with fine cracks or scaly, tight patches.
  • Underlying conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis can cause skin to become rough, itchy and inflamed.

Symptoms often worsen in winter, as well as after bathing or showering.

The causes and triggers of dry hands

In addition to the structural causes already described, there are both external influences and internal triggers that can cause the skin on our hands to dry out.

External influences include:

  • Environmental factors such as harsh weather conditions and fluctuations in temperature
  • Dry air (caused by central heating and air conditioning)
  • Frequent hand washing and using water that is too warm
  • UV light (which causes skin to age prematurely)
  • Inappropriate skincare: using products that do not support skin’s natural pH and which damage skin’s protective barrier
  • Mechanical irritation (i.e. the abrasion of the outermost skin layer). Some workers, e.g. those involved in craft trades, are particularly susceptible to this kind of skin damage
  • Chemicals, including those used in some detergents

Internal triggers include:

  • An unbalanced diet and a lack of fluid intake
  • Alcohol and nicotine
  • Stress
  • The skin ageing process: as we get older our skin generally tends to become drier

Dry hands can also accompany other diseases and conditions such as:

How to care for dry skin on your hands

If your hands are sensitive and rough it’s important to use a moisturising care product regularly after washing – especially if you work in damp conditions or are in regular contact with dirt, lubricants and chemicals.

For very dry and rough hands we recommend Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS Hand Cream 5% Urea. With Urea, Ceramide and other Natural Moisturising Factors (NMFs) it has been clinically and dermatologically proven to deliver both immediate relief and intense moisturisation and is suitable for those with Xerosis, Psoriasis, Diabetes and mature skin.

If you have Atopic Dermatitis (commonly known as Eczema) on your hands, try Eucerin AtopiControl Intensive Hand Cream. It soothes, smooths and regenerates irritated, reddened and itchy hands and can be used during both a flare-up of Atopic Dermatitis and in the calmer phase between flare-ups. Active ingredients include Licochalcone A (an extract of Liquorice which soothes irritated skin), Ceramides (to help restore skin’s natural barrier and support regeneration) and Menthoxypropanediol (a derivative of menthol with the same cooling and itch-relieving properties).


Keep your hand cream next to the wash basin – at home and at work – to remind you to use it. And apply cream immediately after washing your hands as moist skin is particularly good at absorbing the active ingredients.

What else helps to prevent hands from becoming rough and/or delicate?

  • Moisturise your hands before going to bed and wear fine cotton gloves so the cream can be fully absorbed.
  • Always wear gloves in cold weather to protect your hands from drying out.

Be sure to keep your fluid intake up, and don’t substitute water with soft drinks which can be high in sugar.

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