In 2020, we added a couple more items to our checklist when leaving the house. Face masks and hand sanitizer are now essentials. Heading into winter, there is another must-have in the mix: hand cream. Between increased sanitizer usage, more frequent washing with good ol’ soap and water, and colder temperatures, our hands have taken a beating. A quality hand cream can be a saving grace for healthy, hydrated hands. Here, we ask three dermatologists for their hand care tips and the hand creams, lotions, and balms they recommend for smoother skin.
Why Use Hand Cream?
The hands are one of the first places to show signs of aging because the skin is thinner and more delicate than the rest of the body. It is also often neglected. Soap, hand sanitizer, cold weather, arid air, and other extreme conditions damage the skin barrier and lead to dryness, dermatitis, and chapped skin (to name a few). “Barrier function refers to the skin's ability to protect the body from excessive transepidermal water loss, as well as to prevent the penetration of compounds into the body via the epidermi,” explains Amy Spizuoco, DO, a board certified dermatologist and founder of True Dermatology in New York City. “This also helps prevent skin breakdown, thus preventing flare ups of existing conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.”
Applying hand creams that are rich in emollient ingredients can repair a compromised skin barrier and restore the natural oils and moisture that are lost through hand washing and other activities.
How to Choose a Hand Cream
When shopping for hand cream, what’s on the ingredient list matters. New York City-based board certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, says to look for emollients (think: shea butter, cocoa butter, or oils) that will help soften the skin. Occlusive ingredients like glycerin, petrolatum, sunflower oil, and jojoba oil, meanwhile, form a barrier on the skin to prevent water loss. “In medicine, we use it in wound dressings to provide optimal habitat for healing and prevent bacterial contamination,” she says. If the skin is damaged and cracked, she suggests avoiding products with fragrance that could burn or irritate.
The texture of the product you choose is also important. “Thicker creams are more occlusive and provide better penetration, which means better hydration,” says Julie Russak, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic in NYC. If you’re wondering what the difference is between hand creams, balms, moisturizers, and lotions, we’ve got you covered:
- Lotions & Moisturizers: These lightweight formulas usually have the highest water content
- Creams: Formulated with less water than lotions, they include waxes, oils, and butters
- Balms: These oil-, wax-, or butter-based blends omit water
“Moisturizers are something you put on your skin to increase comfort and lubrication,” Dr. Spizuoco says, which makes them great to apply throughout the day. While it depends on your preferences, rich creams and balms tend to be best saved for bedtime because they can take some time to absorb into the skin.
Dermatologist-Approved Hand Creams
While there is no harm in applying hand creams and lotions throughout the day — especially after washing or sanitizing — Dr. Engelman has a winter weather trick: Apply moisturizer before putting gloves on for an additional barrier. “Look for a leather or nylon glove that will not allow air or wind to penetrate or cause moisture to escape,” she says. Even better if those gloves are touchscreen-friendly, so you don’t have to take them off to check your phone.
For patients with extra dry skin, Dr. Russak suggests applying a thick layer of hand cream or balm and putting on cotton gloves before going to bed. “This forces the product to penetrate deeper into the skin overnight for more intense, longer-lasting hydration,” she says.
With these tips in mind, below are six hand creams recommended by our dermatologists:
Eucerin Advanced Repair Hand Cream
Dr. Russak and Dr. Spizuoco are both fans of this non-greasy, fast-absorbing, and fragrance-free formula. It features ceramides and shea butter, which Dr. Spizuoco says lock in moisture. And you’ll see improvements quickly. “It helps repair dry skin and provides the moisture that skin craves to provide smoother and softer hands after just one use,” Dr. Russak notes. $4.50, walmart.com
Supergoop Hand Screen
Your hands need sun protection, too, and this botanical-rich formula boasts broad-spectrum SPF 40. “Hands get constant UV exposure that further breaks down the supporting collagen and fat,” Dr. Engelman explains. She likes this formula because it also contains meadowfoam seed oil to hydrate and antioxidants to combat damage. $14, dermstore.com
Neutrogena Norweigan Hand Cream
Another budget-friendly find that is fragrance-free and safe for sensitive skin, this cream features 40 percent glycerin to hydrate and repair the skin. “It provides instant relief and lasting hydration for extremely dry, chapped skin,” Dr. Russak says. As a result, it can be used everyday or as a deeper repair treatment. $4, walmart.com
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Intensive Moisturizing Hand Treatment
This product is a cult-favorite for a reason. “The formula hasn’t changed since the product was created in the 1930s, and I’ve been using this product since I was a child,” Dr. Engelman says. Butylene glycol and dimethicone are powerful humectants that attract water into the skin, while allantoin protects and soothes. “The best part is it can be used for hands, as lip balm, or anything that needs extra moisture,” she says. $24, elizabetharden.com
CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream
Featuring the same skin-saving ceramides found throughout its face and body care collection, Dr. Spizuoco likes this CeraVe hand cream because it helps lock in moisture and maintains the skin’s natural barrier. It is also water-resistant and non-greasy, which makes it great for applying throughout the day for prolonged protection. $13, cvs.com
Céla Essential Balm
Multipurpose balms can make great hand creams (especially as an overnight treatment), and this formula — which smells serenely of lavender and bergamot — transforms into a luxe oil. “It contains six ultra-hydrating plant butters and six moisturizing oils to soothe dry, chapped, and irritated skin from head to toe,” Dr. Russak notes. “I keep this product in my purse at all times.” $36, ulta.com
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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