Whether it’s because of cold weather, washing your hands a million times, hand sanitizer, or a medical issue, cracked, dry hands can be a real problem. A good, effective hand cream is the best remedy.
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If you have extremely, ridiculously dry hands, you are not alone. Lots of things can leave your skin parched, cracked, or even bleeding, including frequent handwashing, hand sanitizer use, cold or windy weather, or certain skin conditions.
Most things in your life aren’t within your control, but this one is — so get a hand cream that’s actually effective.
“As the temperatures get colder and there’s less humidity in the air, combined with brisk winds as well as indoor heating, which is usually quite dry, all of those things make us lose more moisture from our skin into the air,” said Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. “Hands are exposed to the elements more than some other body areas, and then the more that we're washing them and using hand sanitizer, that can dry out the skin as well.”
As with any purchase, you want to be thoughtful and do your research before assuming that all hand creams are the same or that the priciest options are best. Some popular lotions and moisturizers actually contain ingredients that could make your hands feel worse.
“Dermatologists are always going to tell you to avoid fragrance and essential oils,” said Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist with boutique offices in Napa and San Francisco. “All that stuff is more potential for irritation and allergy.”
Dr. King agrees that fragrances and essential oils are a hard no, explaining that while essential oils can be used as a “natural” fragrance, they can be sensitizing and a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis, especially in skin that’s already raw or cracked. So as much as you may love a sweet-smelling hand cream, it’s best to sacrifice scent if you’re looking for maximum hydration.
Unfortunately for all of you diligent hydrators, Campbell also debunked the myth that drinking water will moisturize your skin from the inside out. (Don’t let that stop you from drinking water. You should still hydrate.) However, there are other ways to supplement a great hand cream when it comes to boosting and protecting your skin’s moisture levels.
To maintain your overall skin and hand health, it can help to sleep with a humidifier in your room and apply hand lotions with a barrier such as dimethicone right after you wash your hands, every time, Campbell said. “If things take off and you’re itchy and there’s a rash and skin is cracked open, sometimes you need a high-potency topical steroid for your hands, so seeing your dermatologist for a prescription is a good idea.”
King suggests looking for the ideal trifecta of components in any moisturizing product: humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
Humectants are mostly low-molecular-weight substances that bind water into the stratum corneum (that outer layer of the skin). “Those are great,” King said, “but you always need to use those in combination with the other components to retain the water content, because otherwise they actually can dry the skin out more.”
Emollients, which are saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons that help the function of the skin barrier, lead to an overall improvement in skin texture and appearance. Occlusives, which are oils and waxes that form an inert layer on the skin, can block water loss from the skin.
Some examples of emollients that you can look for on an ingredient list include cholesterol, squalane, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and ceramides, while occlusives will look more like petrolatum, beeswax, mineral oil, silicones, lanolin, and zinc oxide.
The best hand creams should have that perfect marriage of these three ingredients to lock in moisture and create that protective barrier to avoid as much damage as possible from all of the cold wind, dry heat, and disinfecting.
To help save you time breaking down ingredient lists and money wasted on trendy but subpar lotions, these are some expert-approved products to help make the next few months slightly more bearable.
The brand CeraVe has become a skincare staple for gentle and effective products, including this restorative and therapeutic hand cream. In fact, both dermatologists specifically recommended it. King noted that it’s fast-absorbing and nongreasy, with ceramides and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and lock in moisture. It’s also fragrance-free, making it suitable for sensitive skin, and it contains the dimethicone skin protectant Campbell vouched for.
Promising review: “When I saw this I decided to try it for my dry, often cracked, itchy, over-washed (there's a baby in the house) hands. It works great! I love that it absorbs quickly, so there’s no greasy feeling — just leaves my hands feeling soft and moisturized. I even feel like it lasts pretty well through handwashing!” —Stella
What else to consider: Some reviewers felt that the texture was too thin for their liking, so if you prefer something that feels super thick and creamy upon application, it’s probably not the hand cream for you.
Best for: moderately dry hands in need of a lotion that absorbs almost immediately.
You can buy CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream at Amazon for around $10.
Campbell suggested this Avène cicalfate hand cream, which is part of the Avène line designed for wound care. It’s formulated without parabens, fragrances, soy, or wheat to minimize the risk of allergic reactions. This hand cream promises to be rich yet still absorb quickly with a nongreasy finish and restore hands that have been through the ringer from both climatic conditions and cleaning products. It also claims to lock in moisture through up to five handwashings.
Promising review: “This cream is thick but not too thick. I think it has a pleasant scent. I love the way it feels. It's not greasy. My hands were soft and supple within a few days. I did notice a difference overnight but a major difference within those few days. I would recommend this to anyone with dry hands.” —Jenn
What else to consider: This hand cream comes at a higher price point than most others on this list, but many reviewers feel that its effectiveness makes it worth it. Others noted the texture is indeed quite thick and rich and can feel a bit sticky at first, though it still absorbs well without a sticky or greasy residue. They also advise that a little goes a long way, so hopefully this small tube can last you for a while.
Best for: really dry, cracked skin that needs to heal as well as remain hydrated and protected over time.
You can buy Avène Cicalfate Restorative Hand Cream at Ulta for around $25.
O’Keeffe’s hand cream has a bit of a cult following, which you can gauge from the 30,000-plus ratings on Amazon, 80% of which are 5-star. It’s intended to heal, relieve, and repair extremely dry, cracked skin while also creating a protective layer to help prevent further moisture loss. It meets our experts’ fragrance-free requirement and also comes in a tube version if you prefer that for application convenience.
Promising review: “Does this product need another five star review? Nope. But I had to. This is truly a miracle product!! I have the driest skin in the winter. To the point I will look down at my hands to notice they are bleeding from all the various cracks. This product made a major difference after just one use! Here I am weeks later and my hands have no cracks, look younger and are no longer red. Can O’Keefe’s fix potholes too!?!” —P. Neuber
What else to consider: Working Hands does contain iodopropynyl butylcarbamate, which can cause contact dermatitis in some who are prone to allergic reactions on the skin. If you’re one of those people, you should probably go with another hand cream. Reviews also mention a sticky feeling or some burning in cases of open cuts, but that’s likely due to the medication working to heal any active wounds. O’Keeffe’s recommends applying this at night to mediate those side effects, or directly after showering or washing hands if needed.
Best for: those seeking a deeply replenishing night treatment to use in conjunction with lighter day creams to transform hands over time.
You can buy O’Keeffe’s Working Hands at Amazon for around $7.
This hand cream comes highly praised by King. She likes that it has ceramides and vitamin E, and also contains a plant-derived ingredient called sclareolide that helps to lighten dark spots. Since hands are one area where people often get dark spots, that can be a very nice perk of this lotion. It promises to nourish and revive hands for up to 12 hours, even through multiple washes, and customers back the claim that it’s super silky and disappears into hands without any hint of residue.
Promising review: “This hand cream is delicious. It is so silky and so creamy, and a rich moisturizing lotion. It is expensive but worth the price. This is the best hand cream I have ever used. Perfection!!!” —redapple
What else to consider: Since this is another option that’s on the pricier side, you have to be willing to trust that this will be the right product for you and worth the investment. Those who felt that it was too expensive often still noted that it’s a good-quality lotion, though it seems to be more effective in those who have moderately dry hands as opposed to severely cracked skin.
Best for: anyone seeking a multifunctional hand cream that moisturizes and protects while also brightening and evening skin tone. Hands are one of the first areas of skin to show signs of aging, so if that’s of concern to you, this can serve as another preventive measure.
You can buy EltaMD So Silky Hand Crème at Amazon for around $21.
If you’ve only heard of one brand on this list, it’s probably Vaseline. It’s a classic name in skincare, and despite how much the industry has evolved, the company seems to stick with its simple and powerful yet gentle formulas. This hand cream is free of synthetic fragrances, phthalates, and parabens, making it suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. It should help strengthen the skin barrier on your hands for lasting hydration and protection.
Promising review: “This is an excellent lotion for dry hands. Instantly soothes dry, cracked hands but doesn’t feel greasy.” —Happy purchaser
What else to consider: By far the top complaint about this hand cream was the smell. Based on descriptions, it sounds like it has a bit of an earthy scent, so that should be noted in case it’s enough to deter you from buying the product.
Best for: parched and sensitive skin in need of deep moisture and repair.
You can buy Vaseline Dry Hands Rescue at Target for around $6.
This may be the product you’ve been waiting for — a hand sanitizer and lotion combo. Not only does it include that trifecta of ingredients that King recommends, but it also incorporates a nonalcoholic sanitizer to disinfect hands without additional drying. She also notes that since the sanitizer is not alcohol-based, this product is suitable for sensitive skin. Similar to the Vaseline Dry Hands Rescue, this 2-in-1 has glycerin and vitamin E to soothe and relieve dry skin, while the addition of benzalkonium chloride helps eliminate bacteria without stripping away any moisture.
Promising review: “I bought this product on a whim when my regular lotion was unavailable and I’m glad I did! This lotion is pleasantly scented, light and leaves my skin soft. I wash my hands frequently due to my job and it’s gentle on my dry, sensitive skin. A great addition to my sanitizing routine. Thank you. Please continue to make this product, and hopefully we will soon be able to purchase it in larger sizes. I use it both at home and at work.” —Kai
What else to consider: Reviewers once again commented on the smell, which is a result of the active ingredients standing alone without any synthetic fragrances added, so up to you whether an earthy scent is a dealbreaker. It also probably shouldn’t be a complete replacement for handwashing or other sanitizing products due to the lack of alcohol. Essentially, it should be used as an addition to your routine rather than your sole moisturizer and/or sanitizer.
Best for: moisturizing while also disinfecting for softer and cleaner hands.
You can buy Vaseline 2-in-1 Hand Sanitizer Lotion at Target for around $6.
The Dove Body Love Moisturizing Hand Cream is one of King’s favorites in this product category. “It’s quite rich and moisturizing, does not leave the skin greasy, and there’s no residue, so that’s nice for a hand product,” she said.
It also has that ideal combination of ingredients including petrolatum, dimethicone, and a restoring ceramide serum that aims to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier. Dove also recommends pairing it with the brand's hand sanitizer if you’re looking to disinfect and hydrate.
Promising review: “Just picked this up today and I’m loving it already. The smell is nice and isn’t too strong. I have severe sensitive dry skin and this is non-irritating. I’m a nurse and wash my hands frequently. I apply this immediately afterwards and it keeps my hand hydrated for hours. I will definitely repurchase again.” —Nurse E.
What else to consider: While reviewers love how light this hand cream is, allowing it to absorb instantly, others felt that it wasn’t thick enough to provide that lasting hydrated feeling they were looking for. It also has that signature Dove scent, which means that fragrance is added, so it may not be the best choice for super-sensitive or easily irritated skin.
Best for: those seeking a light and fresh hand lotion with protective functionality and a sweet scent.
You can buy Dove Body Love Moisturizing Hand Cream at Target for around $5.
This Biossance hand cream is quite appealing for sensitive skin in desperate need of moisture and repair. It’s vegan, cruelty-free, nontoxic, paraben-free, and fragrance-free, plus has sugarcane-derived squalane, omega fatty acids, vitamin E, and vegan glycerin. It promises to provide immediate relief as well as long-lasting hydration, and it features those strengthening lipids to help fortify the skin barrier. Shea butter and jojoba seed oil add some extra hydration and protection as well as a light and fresh scent.
Promising review: “I love this cream! I’ve tried so many others for dry skin, especially during this time of year, and this one is by far the best. My hands remain soft all day!!” —Verified buyer
What else to consider: This is another option that falls on the higher end pricewise, but nearly everyone that buys it seems to love it. One reviewer cited a drawback in that they had to use it too frequently to maintain moisture; however, they still appreciated that the clean ingredients and lack of synthetic fragrance helped them avoid headaches and skin irritation.
Best for: fans of Jonathan Van Ness's (he’s the face of the brand and swears by the products) who also want a good hand cream with a fresh feel that’s easy on the skin.
You can buy Squalane + Omega Repair Hand Cream at Biossance for around $16.
Another nongreasy, fast-absorbing lotion that’s free of fragrances and dyes, this Eucerin Advanced Repair cream falls right in the middle of the scale of light to rich. It uses ceramides for moisture barrier repair and natural moisturizing factors like amino acids naturally found in the skin to boost hydration. It also features buffered alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) to gently exfoliate, which is key in clearing away dead skin to keep hands soft and smooth. Eucerin is also one of those reputable brands that have been around for over 100 years, so you can assume it knows what it’s doing when it comes to skincare.
Promising review: “I am a hand cream addict and have tried them all at various price points. This is my 'holy grail' hand cream and is absolutely the best. It moisturizes so well and absorbs quickly with no greasy residue. I wash my hands A LOT and use this each time to keep my hands looking great. I have literally purchased this item 49 times from Amazon alone. I keep one next to each sink in my home. It’s superb — highly recommend. Subscribe & save also makes it easy to keep on hand at a great price.” —VP12
What else to consider: AHA can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you should always apply sunscreen and/or wear protective clothing if you’re going to have sun exposure after using. Some reviewers also did not like the natural scent of the product, but still acknowledged that it helped with dryness.
Best for: dry hands looking for a long-term fix that includes gentle exfoliation.
You can buy Eucerin Advanced Repair Hand Cream at Amazon for around $15 for three tubes.
With glycerin, shea butter, squalane, and dimethicone, this Kiehl’s hand salve has many of those buzzy ingredients our experts advised us to look for in hand creams. It also has avocado oil for the rich emollient texture, lipids, and omega fatty acids and sesame seed oil for the quick absorption and emollient properties. It’s one of the more thick and rich formulas that promises to protect and repair extremely dry hands and also improve the appearance of the skin.
Promising review: “I thought my hands were beyond help, as I’m a stay home mom and I cook 3-4 times a day and constantly clean or wash something (fruits, veggies, dishes, etc.), but this cream saved me. I recommend using it before going to bed, so it stays on and works during the night. In the morning my hands are soft and smooth!” —GaiaSA
What else to consider: One potentially controversial ingredient is eucalyptus oil, which may be considered an essential oil that dermatologists would advise avoiding. However, eucalyptus does have purifying properties and a clean, fresh aroma, so if you don’t have a history of skin reactions to the oil, it should be safe to use. Some reviewers also had issues in getting all of the product out of the tube.
Best for: anyone who wants a hand cream that’s actually effective in hydrating (based on reviews) and enjoys a refreshing eucalyptus scent.
You can buy Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve at Ulta for around $16.
Contact Loren Cecil at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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