Our hands go through a lot every day, and if you have experienced hand eczema, you know how frustrating and tricky it can be to treat the skin condition on such a tactile body part. Like other types of eczema, hand eczema irritates the skin and can cause dry, scaly patches, but different from, say, eczema on your elbows or even your face, we are constantly washing our hands and putting them through potentially skin-drying scenarios. So, what are the best ways to treat hand eczema? We tapped four dermatologists and asked them how they recommend remedying the skin condition, plus what causes it in the first place. They also shared with us what ingredients to look out for when shopping for hand products and their favorite non-drying hand sanitizers. Keep scrolling to read their advice.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Joyce Park is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Refinery. She also creates dermatology-focused content on her Instagram, @teawithmd, which has garnered over 150k followers.
- Corey L. Hartman is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
- Kim Nichols is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of SkinCeuticals SkinLab by NicholsMD.
- Scott Paviol is a board-certified dermatologist.
What Is Hand Eczema?
Before we can dive into the nitty-gritty of hand eczema, let's remind ourselves what eczema actually is. According to Dr. Park, "Eczema is a common skin condition caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors, that presents typically in childhood as dry itchy patches in skin folds." Eczema may, in some cases, begin in childhood, but it can continue into adulthood and can be worsened by a number of factors, including, "dry skin, allergens coming into contact with the skin, hormonal changes, and stress, to name a few," says Dr. Park.
Now that we have that established, let's focus on a common area in which eczema presents itself: your hands. "Hand eczema can take a few different forms, ranging from red, dry, scaly, itchy patches, that you commonly think of as eczema," explains Dr. Park. In more severe cases, though, Dr. Park says symptoms may include "small, deep, itchy, yellow to red bumps under the surface of the skin", which is called dyshidrotic eczema.
How Does Hand Eczema Differ From Other Types of Eczema?
We tend to group all types of body eczema together when discussing the skin concern, but Dr. Park points out that hand eczema has distinguishable symptoms and treatment is different from elsewhere on the body. "Dyshidrotic eczema, the form of eczema on the hand that presents as deep, seated bumps, looks very different from other types of eczema," says Dr. Park. "Hand eczema can also be particularly challenging to treat, because it is hard for medications to stay on in that area, and the hands are constantly exposed to all sorts of aggressors and irritants since they touch many things," she adds.
Why Does Hand Eczema Occur?
"Hand eczema typically occurs from dryness of the skin and exposure to allergens and irritates," says Dr. Park. "Some of these irritants are ones you would not think of, the most common one being water. Frequent handwashing can trigger and dermatitis, especially if you do not apply moisturizer to the hands after washing," she continues.
Dr. Park notes that washing our hands can worsen hand eczema, but that is frankly unavoidable, even more so due to Covid-19. "During the pandemic, I saw a huge uptick in the number of hand dermatitis patients simply from everyone washing and drying out their hands all the time," she points out.
How Can You Treat Hand Eczema?
According to Dr. Park, "The best thing is to keep the hands, well moisturized, and to cut down exposure to allergens and irritants." If you're looking for an at-home treatment, she recommends applying moisturizer on your hands and following it with a thick occlusive, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor. Then, put on gloves or socks and sleep with them overnight for intense hydration.
Dr. Park also adds that if you're in a profession where you wash your hands frequently, try to apply moisturizer after washing or look for alcohol-free hand sanitizer that isn't drying.
Board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, Corey L. Hartman, shares a similar sentiment and emphasizes the importance of applying moisturizer after washing hands. “Hand dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis caused by hand sanitizer should be treated with frequent and liberal use of moisturizer containing ceramides and other emollients to trap moisture in, particularly after hand washing when hands have been hydrated with water,” he explains. “The barrier is the most important aspect of preventing eczema, irritation, itching, scaling, and redness. If those symptoms occur, a topical steroid cream may be necessary to calm the symptoms and prevent fissures and infection.”
If you can’t seem to keep your dryness under control with hydrating sanitizers and frequent moisturizing, Hartman says to keep a bottle of over-the-counter cortisone cream on hand. “It should be applied to any itchy, scaly, red, or irritated areas two to three times daily followed by a thick, bland moisturizer [like Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($4.59) or CeraVe Healing Ointment ($11.59)]."
What Ingredients Should You Look For In Hand Products?
If you have hand eczema, using products like hand sanitizer, which is especially drying, can seem daunting. According to the board-certified dermatologist and founder of SkinCeuticals SkinLab by NicholsMD, Kim Nichols, looking for calming, soothing ingredients is the key to protecting your hands’ moisture content and preventing hand eczema from developing.
“Glycerin is a great addition to hand sanitizer because it acts as a humectant, helping our skin retain its moisture,” she explains. “Aloe vera hydrates while it soothes irritated skin as well, which makes it beneficial in any sanitizer.”
Fragrance is a common ingredient that's a potential irritant when it comes to hand eczema. "If you are sensitive to fragrance, I recommend looking for a fragrance-free hand, cream, or sanitizer to avoid allergens," says Dr. Park. "In terms of hand sanitizers, I would opt for an alcohol-free option, because oftentimes hand dermatitis results in small tears, and cutting the skin, and alcohol can really burn the skin upon application. Alcohol can also further dry out the skin, worsening the hand dermatosis," she continues.
Stock Up on the Best Non-Drying Hand Sanitizers
We asked dermatologists what non-drying hand sanitizers they recommend, and they delivered. Here are the best non-drying hand sanitizers, according to our dermatologists:
“I find that the Purell Advanced Refreshing Aloe Sanitizer is easily accessible and helps to prevent drying without sacrificing the integrity of the sanitizer itself,” explains Nichols. The formula features 70% ethyl alcohol, so it's considered highly effective by the CDC.
Beloved for its chic appearance, colorful offering, and effective formula, TouchLand hand sanitizer is a fan favorite among most people, including Nichols. “TouchLand Power Mist has aloe vera and lemon essential oil to help hydrate hands and provide a fresh, clean smell,” she says.
“My favorite is LaRoche-Posay Purifying Hand Sanitizer Gel,” Hartman says, “It has a pleasant smell, delivers effective cleansing between hand washings, and leaves my hands feeling hydrated. [What’s more,] it contains glycerin and keeps hands clean and full of moisture.”
“It doubles as a moisturizer containing both glycerin and aloe vera to balance the alcohol,” Hartman says. While it only features 62% ethyl alcohol, it's within the CDC's range, as they recommend above 60% ethanol and above 70% isopropanol.
Board-certified dermatologist Scott Paviol is a fan of Baby Bum’s Hand Sanitizer, which features Monoi coconut oil and aloe vera along with alcohol, to not only sanitize hands but deeply nourish them too.
The hands can be a pesky area for eczema, considering how much we use them throughout the day, but with the right treatment, you can help to soothe the affected area and prevent your eczema from worsening. Moisturizing after washing your hands is key, along with finding hand sanitizers that are made with nourishing ingredients such as glycerin, aloe vera, and coconut oil.