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Tips and tricks - how to best protect your hands

Winter, heat, water, dry air, lots of hand washing, soap and disinfectant. An ordinary day in our lives can really take its toll on our poor hands! Washing our hands is a habit we hardly think about, but what about moisturising our hands? Many of us tend to forget this and ours won't be late to tell us. Dryness, itching, burning and sometimes cracks that hurt and just won't heal. ouch!

Why do my hands get so dry from washing and disinfecting?  

The reason your hands get so dry is that soap and sanitizers not only effectively kill unwanted bacteria and viruses that are on your hands, they also kill the important and beneficial bacteria that you naturally have on your skin. The thousands of bacteria we have on your skin are important because they provide and bind moisture. These good remedies are simply making your skin dry. In addition, lots of soaps and disinfectants also destroy the fats that we naturally have in your skin. When your important fat layer - which protects and helps your skin retain essential moisture - deteriorates, your hands become dry.

How can I heal my hands again?  

When you wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer, you need to use a good hand cream. If you don't, you could potentially develop cracks where bacteria can get in and, in the worst case, cause an infection.

Of course, it's best to start with preventative care to avoid getting very dry hands. But if it's important you start using a generous amount of hand cream after every hand wash and after every time you use hand sanitizer.

How do I find a good hand cream?   

What you need is a very rich, oily cream with emollients to give your hands a protective layer and prevent the water from evaporating. We also need to add moisture, the cream should contain humectants that sink into the top layer of the skin and bind the moisture there.

To find a hand cream that contains effective emollients and moisturisers, it is important to read the INCI list carefully. Here are some golden rules to follow:  

  • Less is more - look for a minimalist ingredients list. A few effective ingredients are better than a parade of extracts, active ingredients and so on. These ingredients may sound cool, but your hands don't care. A maximum of 20 or so base ingredients is a good rule of thumb.
  • Avoid perfumed products, including those with essential oils. Dry and chapped hands are particularly sensitive to such ingredients, which can only irritate the skin further.

  • Avoid canned packaging. Canned hand creams require more preservatives because you put your fingers in them, perhaps daily, and preservatives are irritating to the skin. Look for pumps or tubes instead.  

Which ingredients should should I look for?

To reduce water evaporation from the skin and retain moisture in the skin requires a occlusive (barrier-forming) ingredients. This can be oils or other fats such as butter or wax. Some oils to look for in the ingredients list (INCI) are Canola oil and other vegetable oils, Shea butter and other butters, waxes mineral oils and silicones. Mineral oils and silicones get a lot of criticism for not being biodegradable and therefore not the best for the environment, but they are cheap and very effective for dry skin and therefore used extensively by manufacturers. You will find mineral oils in the ingredients list such as Mineral Oil, Petrolatum, Paraffin and Vaseline. Silicones in the ingredients list are called Dimethicone or Siloxane (and all others ending in -cone and -oxane).

Your hand cream should also contain moisturisers, ingredients that bind moisture, to be effective. Look for Glycerin, Sortbitol, X-ylitol, PCA salts, Betaine and Lactic acid. Sugars and salts also bind moisture. Another good ingredient that goes under two INCI names is Urea and Carbamide.   

In addition often Niacinamide (vitamin B3) because the ingredient is skin barrier strengthening .

To clarify, our hand cream does not have to contain all these ingredients! Just a few of each and water is enough for the hand cream to be effective.

Are expensive hand creams better, or maybe natural hand creams?  

Expensive brands often contain too many ingredients, too much perfume and preservatives. There are many hand creams that are tested specifically for sensitive skin and are affordable. Unfortunately, many of them are still based on mineral oils and silicones, which means limited biodegradability. So they're good for your hands but not good for the environment.

The problem is that many creams with a focus on biodegradability are formulated with perfumes and natural essential oils that can increase skin sensitivity, especially when dry. More skincare companies should focus on products for sensitive skin for both the environment and the skin !

To summarise, look for a minimalist hand cream with some effective ingredients. Apply your hand cream generously every time after you have washed your hands and wait not until they get too dry. And remember that natural or expensive creams not always are the best.