Chapped Hands

Suffering from dry skin is bad enough. But sometimes dry skin gets so bad it becomes chapped skin-red, rough, scaly, and even cracked and bleeding. The hands are common victims for such distress, taking the abuse we dish out each IV as we wash them over and over, subject them to harsh chemicals and cleansers, and expose them he elements. Whether you’re a postal carrier, a cannery worker, a bartender, or a new parent changing diapers countless times a day, your hands probably getting left high and dry.

To understand why your hands get such a raw deal, it helps to take a look at the skin itself. think of your skin as continuous layers of oil and water,” says Paul Lazar, M.D., professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University School of medicine in Chicago. The top layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum, is made up of 6 to 12 layers of cells. Those layers contain lipids, or fats, at act as a barrier to keep the moisture in your. I, explains Ruby Ghadially, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Dermat¬≠ology at the University of California at San Francisco. “Because the air around you is drier In the body, that barrier stops you from losing water from the inside out,” she says.

Unfortunately, the constant wetting and drying our skin undergoes during the course of an age day can remove the protective oils that help seal in moisture. It can also damage the skin drying it out, says Jerome Z. Litt, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Case western Reserve University School of Medicine in leveland. When you combine moisture loss and ,the removal of the skin’s natural protective barrier, and up with dry skin that can quickly become lapped and painful.

Winter is the time that you are most likely to suffer from dry, chapped hands. That’s because a combination of factors are at work. Indoor heating decreases the humidity in the air, making it more likely that water will be pulled from your skin. At the same time, the cold, dry air and wind outdoors rob precious moisture from your skin.

And the older you are, the more likely your skin is to get dry, points out Albert M. Kligman, M.D., Ph.D., emeritus professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, dry or chapped skin is more than just uncomfortable. It can actually make your skin more susceptible to other types of damage, such as bacterial infections, or more likely to suffer the effects of irritating substances such as detergents, says Ghadially.

Here’s what the experts recommend for protecting and repairing dry, chapped hands.

Wear gloves or mittens outside. Your mother probably used to tell you this each time you made a move to the door in winter. Well, she was right again. Keep your hands covered to protect them from cold, windy, dry weather.

Dress your hands for work.Wear vinyl gloves “as much as practical” when you’re washing dishes, scrubbing the tub, or otherwise exposing your hands to chemicals and cleansers, says Lazar.Vinyl gloves are a better choice than rubber gloves because they don’t cause allergic reactions, he says. Cotton liners are an added bonus because they can help wick away perspiration, which can further irritate chapped skin. Wearing cotton gloves while you do “dry” work such as dusting can cut down on friction an potential damage as well.

Protect against sunlight. The sun’s ultraviolet rays  damage the skin and only worsen dryness and chapping, says Kligman. So be sure to wear a  sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 on all exposed skin when you’re going outdoors in daylight.

Smear on the petrolatum. Petrolatum, or petroleum  jelly, is the most effective for treating chapped skin, agree the experts. One way to get results without getting the petrolatum all over everything. Rub it on at night, before you go to bed, and cover your hands with a pair of cotton gloves. You might all consider doing this before you sit down to read the newspaper or watch television, says Lazar. According to Kligman, one week of regular petrolatum use will result in soft skin.

Use moisturizers. If you don’t like the greasy feel of petrolatum, use a product you do like. Among the products recommended by dermatologists, Eucerin, Nivea, Lubriderm, Moisturel, and Aquatlor. Remember that a cream works better than a lotion at protecting your skin because it is thicker and heavier. No matter which product you choose, however, be sure to apply it several times a day, especially after bathing or washing your hands.

Don’t worry about lanolin. As for lanolin, an ingredient that some people say is highly allergenic: Both Kligman and Lazar disagree that it causes as many allergic reactions as some claim. Kligman blames false-positive readings from patch testing (a type of skin test used to determine if a substance causes an allergic reaction) for the claims that it’s highly allergenic. “It’s about as sensitizing as water,” he adds.

Leave the “magic” ingredients on the shelf. In other words, “you don’t need something with vitamin A, E, or C or mink oil,” says Kligman.

Give your pocketbook-and your hands-a break. The higher the price, the less likely it’s useful,” Kligman says.

Avoid fragrances. Although fragrances are responsible for few allergic reactions, they can cause an allergic rash in some susceptible individuals, says Ghadially.

Use a mild soap. Ivory has a reputation for purity, but it’s far from gentle to your skin, says Kligman. Choose a super fatted soap or even a liquid cleanser. Some choices: Dove, Basis, Eucerin, Aquanil, S.c. Lotion, or Moisturel. Cetaphil cleanser is touted by dermatologists as one of the mildest products you can buy and is recommended for problem skin. Stay away from deodorant soaps, except for Lever 2000, says Kligman.

Stay out of hot water. The hotter the water temperature, the better it is at removing oil ¬≠whether it’s the grease from your dishes or those valuable oils from your skin. Use warm water for baths and hand washing.

Humidify your house. It’s not as efficient at protecting against dry skin as are other measures, says Lazar, but humidifying the air in your home can help.

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