Healing Your Hands
The smartest advice for itchy, scratchy, irritable skin
Hand scratching is hardly an attractive habit, yet it’s tough to leave your hands alone when that itchy, scratchy feeling comes a-crawling.
What causes it? And what can you do about it?
If the skin on your hand itches, there are several potential culprits.
Sometimes, the cause of your itchiness may be as simple as having dry skin. Dr. Barney Kenet, a dermatologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said that although there are many reasons, the most common is dry skin, particularly during winter months.
Kenet recommends moisturizing your hands as soon as you get out of the shower, while they are still damp.
“Slather on an emollient moisturizer like Dorothy’s Original Oil, which is rich in nourishing oils and lanolin. Allow the moisturizer to soak in thoroughly — and if it feels a bit too greasy, gently pat your hands with a paper towel.”
This method works on dry cuticles and nails, too.
Kenet also recommends another solution that may already be in your kitchen. He says you can spray an even coating of Spectrum Coconut Spray Oil on your hands to relieve itchiness.
Sometimes, an allergic reaction may be the cause of your itchy skin.
“One of the most common allergens is nickel, and can be the culprit if you wear costume jewelry,” Kenet said. “The first thing to do is discontinue wearing the jewelry and apply a cortisone cream.”
In addition, some people are allergic to certain brands of soap, detergent, or gloves made of latex or other materials. Antihistamines and topical corticosteroids help relieve itching caused by allergic reactions.
If there is scaling on one hand only, it may be a symptom of fungus.
“Dry superficial white scales that are sharply demarcated are the number one symptom of a fungal infection,” Kenet said.
He recommends a topical antifungal cream such as Lamisil, but says in more severe cases, you should see your dermatologist.
Several factors may lead to irritable skin:
- The weather. Cold weather or a very dry location can produce ashy, dry, flaky skin.
- Soap and water. Washing more than two or three times a day can irritate the skin.
- Stress. Severe eczema as a result of stressful situations can cause clusters of dry and irritated skin.
- Animals. Some people, such as Shannon Wilsey of San Francisco, get contact dermatitis from dogs, with the exception of some short-hair breeds.
Jennifer Price of Davidson, North Carolina, said her hands are often itchy, and she chronically has multiple sores on her fingers that are very difficult to heal.
“I find that dry, cold weather definitely makes it worse, as does using antibiotic creams and adhesive bandages. The only way I’ve found consistent relief is when I apply a thick layer of Vasoline or Aquaphor each night and then wrap my hands in gauze or cover them with cotton gloves.”
Price says that if she does that at least three nights in a row, her hands heal and are very soft.
Preventing Dry, Itchy Skin on Your Hands
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dr. Charles E. Crutchfield III, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, shared a preventive routine.
“The best way to prevent dry, itchy hands is to use a gentle, nondetergent cleanser when washing, and apply a moisturizing lotion immediately after washing and drying your hands,” he said.
The routine should be performed every time you wash your hands, especially in the dry, cold winter months.
“Your skin will love you for this,” he said.