If your hands are perpetually rough and dry, even if the skin on your face and body is soft, don't stress. Frequently exposed to the elements—from the water you use to wash your dishes to low temperatures during the winter months—your hands go through a lot. As such, it makes sense that sometimes they get a little (or more than a little) chapped.
However, there are ways to make them more supple—and we went to the experts to find out exactly what they are. Ahead, board-certified dermatologists Kseniya Kobets, MD, and Marisa Garshick, MD, share how to make hands soft.
Meet the Expert
- Kseniya Kobets, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic dermatology at Montefiore Einstein Advanced Care in Westchester, New York.
- Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist serving patients in New York City and New Jersey and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
Switch Out Your Hand Wash
We're certainly not suggesting you stop washing your hands, but it is worth mentioning that it can take a toll on your skin. Happily, a few simple tweaks make a big difference. The detergents (specifically sulfates) found in most traditional hand washes can be very stripping—especially if you're washing your hands frequently. Using a mild, gentle cleanser instead is a good idea, suggests Kobets.
Top tip: It doesn't have to be a hand-specific product. There are actually many face washes on the market perfect for the job. Seek out a sulfate-, soap-, and fragrance-free formula with ceramides and/or hyaluronic acid that can help add back moisture, like CeraVe's Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($14).
Moisturize Immediately After Exposure to Water
Even if you've changed your hand wash, Garshick tells us that water itself is very drying. (Know how your fingers get all pruney after a long soak in the tub? That's because the skin is dehydrated.) Apply hand cream immediately after your hands are exposed to water, be it from hand washing, dish doing, or even taking a shower.
Lotioning up right after is the best way to lock in much-needed moisture, says Garshick, who suggests keeping a tube of hand cream next to your sink as a helpful reminder. If that's unrealistic, aim to moisturize at least twice daily, including before bed, she says. But what exactly should you be looking for in a hand cream? Keep reading.
Layer Your Hand Creams
Layer hand creams the same way you would clothing: In order from lightest to heaviest. Start with a cream that contains humectants—ingredients that attract water to and trap it in the skin, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid—Kobets says. Next, you'll want a formula with emollients, which soften and smooth the skin; ceramides are a choice option. And finally, you can seal it all in with Vaseline or Aquaphor. These thicker ointments don't necessarily deliver any moisture in and of themselves (which is why using them alone to combat dryness won't work), but they can seal in all those other goodies, locking everything in for maximum results.
If layering feels like a lot of work, seek out a formula that contains all three ingredient categories—humectants, emollients, and occlusives—such as beeswax, suggests Kobets.
Wear Cotton Gloves at Night
Load up on the hand cream (or creams) and then pop on a pair of cotton gloves come bedtime. "This both keeps the cream from rubbing off, making it even more effective, and provides an occlusive environment to help trap moisture," says Garshick. "Your hands will feel softer and smoother when you wake up." We like Earth Therapeutics' Moisturizing Hand Gloves ($9).
Try an Exfoliating Hand Cream
Exfoliation is par for the course when combating rough, dry skin, but proceed with caution when it comes to your hands. Physical scrubs and straight-up chemical exfoliants are too harsh for your hands and may end up causing irritation that will only worsen the situation. Instead, opt for a moisturizing cream that contains a gentle exfoliant. This way, you can get some moisture and nourishment to the skin, along with a bit of exfoliation that will eliminate a build-up of dry skin cells, further helping to smooth and soften the hands, says Garshick. Try the TLC Glycolic Body Lotion ($28) from Drunk Elephant.
Why Are My Hands So Dry?
There are many reasons our hands have a rougher (literally) go of it than other areas. "The palms of our hands, along with the soles of our feet, are the only places on the body that do not have sebaceous glands, which produce oil that helps protect the skin from dehydration," explains Kobets. The skin on the hands also tends to be thicker, she adds, making it harder for moisturizers to penetrate.
On top of that, a host of external factors come into play. Our hands are constantly in contact with various irritants—soap, hand sanitizer, even water—throughout the day, all of which can strip the skin of its natural oils and make the hands more susceptible to dryness, says Garshick. Additionally, unless you're wearing gloves, your hands are always exposed to the elements. Environmental factors such as the sun, low temperatures, and low humidity can all further contribute to dryness, she notes.
What can I soak my hands in to soften them?
Don't soak them, period. Water itself dries out the skin. Whereas you want to soak dry feet in order to soften the dry skin before then removing it, that's not the case when it comes to hands (you're not going to be sloughing your hands with a pumice stone). If you soak hands in water they may feel softer in the moment, but they will then just become drier.
In related news, both Kobets and Garshick underscore the importance of wearing rubber gloves whenever your hands will be exposed to water for a prolonged period of time, i.e. when you're doing the dishes.
Can Vaseline make your hands soft?
Not, in and of itself. The reason that Vaseline and other oily ointments don't provide hydration is because they are occlusives, sealing in moisture but not adding it, explains Kobets. It's a good idea to layer it on top of hand cream, but putting just Vaseline on dry hands it isn't going to do much.LEARN MORE: Wait—You Can Slug Your Entire Body?
How can I soften my hands overnight?
You can't necessarily get from super dry hands to super soft ones overnight, but the PM hours are a good time to achieve a noticeable improvement. Following our tips about layering several different creams is a good start, but the real key is wearing cotton gloves to keep everything sealed in. This will improve the products' penetration while you snooze.