Hands don’t get enough love. Most of us moisturize right after facial cleansers, but how many of us do so after a good hand washing? And while the skin on our hands isn’t as sensitive as the stuff covering our faces, it’s still living tissue. It cracks, flakes, and gets itchy. Especially when winter comes, which is when it’s high time for a good hand cream.
But you have different skin from the guy next to you. You live different lifestyles. If you need to be out in the drying winds, if your job demands you wash your hands constantly, then the cheap watery stuff may not work for you. So here are a few tips and tricks that will help you pick out the heavy duty stuff–hand cream targeted at dry, cracked hands.
How to Choose Hand Cream and Lotion for Dry, Cracked Skin – Buying Guide
Bodies are complicated things. No matter how much research you do or data you gather, there’s always a component to skincare that’s determined by experience and trial-and-error. So this time around, we talked hand creams with Angela, a beauty blogger who suffers from what she calls perennially dry skin.
Beauty and the Cat
Angela (the lovely lady on the right) is one-third of Beauty and the Cat. The other two thirds are her pal Renee (whom we talked to about foundations) and the kitty beauty consultant, Roxy.
Together, they pen the lively and hilarious Beauty and the Cat, a blog that combines their experience in the beauty industry and love for anthropomorphic kitties. If you've dry skin, definitely look out for Angela's posts, as she's also contending with dehydration and "the ravages of time." You can also meet Roxy at her Instagram, below.
Here are Moisturizing Ingredients all Good Hand Creams Should Have
If you want to be sure a hand cream will moisturize, there’s a few powerhouse ingredients out there you can look for. Hyaluronic acid is a compound produced by your body, where it helps repair and hydrate skin. Ceramides are another group of molecules that naturally reside in the upper layers of your skin; they contain fatty acids that hold on to moisture.
Both of the ingredients above can be derived naturally from plant sources (wheat, for example, contains hyaluronic acid), but they are often synthesized in a lab; however, they’re more or less indistinguishable from their natural counterparts.
If, for any reason, you do want to stick with plant-derived ingredients, shea, jojoba, and cocoa butter are all potent moisturizers. You can also look for hand creams high in oils like argan, avocado, sweet almond, and sunflower. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you want a hand cream that’s all botanicals, Angela lays it out clearly below.
I use a lot of face oils because I have drier skin. And one of the ingredients is a mix of natural and synthetic. It’s squalane, which used to be derived from shark liver, but now there’s a company called Biossance that derives it from sugarcanes to make it more vegan-friendly.
Have Specific Things You Want the Hand Cream to Do? Here are Some Common Ingredients and Their Properties
Angela pointed out to us that rarely does a “miracle ingredient” or two make or break a skincare product. It’s the overall formulation–that long list of ingredients. However, we thought we’d address some common ingredients you can look out for and list out their purposes, as well as any caveats and tips that go with them.
For Crusty Hands, Look for Urea, which Moisturizes and Soaks through Dead Skin
Let’s get this out of the way–yes, urea and urine have the same root (the Latin “urina”). Urea is a molecule that is excreted in urine and sweat, but it is not the same as pee. In low concentrations, urea attracts water to itself and, by extension, your skin. In higher concentrations (upwards of 10%), it works as a keratolytic–that is, it dissolves dead skin to reveal supple skin underneath.
Though it is a compound found in nature, the urea in beauty products is usually synthesized in a lab. It’s quite powerful, which means that can irritate sensitive skin and should not be used near open wounds.
So, for hand creams and body creams in particular, I always look for an oil or a butter in the first three ingredients. I noticed if the first three ingredients are things like water and glycerin and aloe vera, the formula ends up way too light to actually make a good hand cream.
For Chaffs and Cracks, Look for Aloe Vera and Other Skin-Rejuvenating Vitamins and Ingredients
If your skin is cracked, then it makes sense to look for ingredients that can generate healing. For example, vitamins help soothe and patch up skin. Vitamin C, in particular, increases collagen. In turn, this ensures your skin heals properly, preventing small lesions from splitting into bigger wounds.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and protects your skin against environmental stressors. And you don’t necessarily need to look for hand creams that are specifically fortified with vitamins. Many botanicals include vitamins in them. Angela likes argan oil, which is not only packed with fatty acids, but with vitamin A and E.
This one might be obvious, but aloe vera is good for cracked skin. Not only does it hydrate, but it also disinfects open wounds. However, it’s still gentle enough for sensitive skin.
For Preventive and Heavy Nighttime Care, Stock up on Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is a by-product of oil-refining; it’s made from the waxy substance found in oil rigs, which is then filtered to yield this skincare miracle. There are opponents of petroleum jelly; some say it’s unsustainable (since it relies on oil drilling), while some worry it’s too heavy.
Brand-name Vaseline, however, is classified as a non-comedogenic, meaning it shouldn’t clog pores. Petroleum jelly is one of the most effective occlusives–that is, it traps water in your skin. It’s also an emollient, which means it softens flaky skin.
However, it is very greasy, which is why it’s not a popular skincare item to use during the day. But you can use it on your hands before you go to sleep, and it’ll lock in moisture and shield your hands from drying winds overnight.
If You Have Sensitive Skin, Go Light on the Scented Ingredients
You’ve probably heard all the bad rap about synthetic scents by now; they can irritate skin, harm your kidney, and mess with your hormones. However, even natural fragrances, including those derived from essential oils, can sensitize skin–that is, cause an allergic immune response.
If you have dermatitis or are prone to allergies, you may be more susceptible to sensitization. However, this does not mean you must avoid all essential oils with strong fragrances. This means you look at how concentrated the oils are and understand what does and does not work with your skin.
Other than that, a naturally scented hand lotion also doubles as lovely aromatherapy.
The two scents that I’m obsessed with are rose and peach. It’s relaxing, and you feel like you’re going to sleep in a spa. And I really like peach for the daytime because it perks you up and makes you think of summer exactly when it’s the coldest.
Top 10 Best Hand Creams and Lotions for Dry, Cracked Skin to Buy Online
From low end to high end, from thick to even thicker, here are some creams that have proven themselves to work on a lot of people. Here’s to hoping that something also works for you.
10. Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment
Just a Petroleum Jelly-Based Ointment with Simple Ingredients, but It Really Protects Your Skin
It’s a simple hand cream–some might just call it petroleum jelly in a tube. It has petrolatum (another word for petroleum jelly) listed as its active ingredient. It’s followed by just six inactive ingredients, including pantenol, glycerin, and bisabolol, which are all moisturizing and restorative skincare ingredients.
The other three ingredients are mineral oil; lanolin alcohol, which is actually fatty and not drying; and ceresin, which is a wax often used as a thickening agent (may cause sensitization in some). So it’s a simple ointment; it isn’t packed with a billion nutrients, but it does its job well. It moisturizes and forms a barrier over your skin, and it’s worked wonders on cracks and callouses. It is greasy, and it doesn’t absorb well–but, still, it’s just so good at protecting you from irritants.
9. Curél Ultra Healing Intensive Lotion (2-Pack)
A Less Greasy Petroleum Jelly Alternative with Plant Extracts
This lotion is like a riff on the ointment above. It has petroleum jelly as its third ingredient–so not in a high enough concentration to warrant a drug label like the Aquaphor, but it seems to work quite well in shielding your skin from irritants. It’s noticeably lighter and can feel a bit runny or thin, especially in warmer weather, but it also absorbs fairly quickly.
Other than that, it’s got water and glycerin as its first and second ingredients. Glycerin, if you don’t know by now, is a humectant (substance that attracts water) that mimics our NMF–that is, the natural barrier our bodies make to keep our skin hydrated and protected. There are also a few more good-for-you botanicals in small concentrations, including shea butter.
8. Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream
The Hand Cream for People Who Hate Hand Cream: Colorless and Odorless but Works
There are only nine ingredients in this hand cream, so it leaves us scratching our heads a bit as to why it works so well. The first ingredient is water and the second is glycerin (introduced above). It’s followed by cetearyl alcohol, which is a texture stabilizer, and stearic acid, which helps form a protective barrier over the skin. Both function as emollients (skin softeners).
And, simply, it works. You really need just a dab of the stuff–apply too much, and it will feel greasy and take longer to absorb into the skin. It’s also colorless and odorless. The only thing is, it does contain parabens, which can disrupt hormone function when used excessively. Look over your skincare routine and think about how much you’re willing to accept.
7. Yes To Coconut Protecting Hand & Cuticle Cream
If You Like Pina Coladas… A Shea Butter- and Coconut Oil-Based Hand Cream
The first three ingredients are water, shea butter, and cetearyl alcohol–three moisurizing ingredients that you should be familiar with by now. It’s followed by a few synthetic emollients and then a long list of good-for-you botanicals, with coconut oil in the lead.
It’s not too thick and doesn’t take long to absorb. It helps with slight cracking on the hands, and it works wonders on dry and bleeding cuticles. And if you’re looking to throw a little more summer into your day, it has this light coconut smell that’s reminiscent of pina colada. Fragrance does appear in the ingredients list. It’s the very last one, but it might irritate sensitive skin.
6. Weleda Skin Food
From a Natural Beauty Brand: Packed with Soothing Plant Extracts and Oils
The name of the cream speaks for itself. Weleda is packed with healthful ingredients derived from nature. The top three ingredients are water, sunflower seed oil, and lanolin. Lanolin’s a skin care ingredient with hundreds of years of history; it’s derived from a grease that sheep excrete to condition their wool.
Lanolin is an effective occlusive–that is, it forms a barrier over your skin and keeps water from evaporating. While it’s generally harmless, it can cause allergic reactions when applied to chapped, irritated skin. Otherwise, this cream is full of soothing plant extracts and, even though it’s quite thick, is gentle enough to use on the face. It absorbs quite quickly as well.
5. O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Hand Cream
Amazon’s Favorite: Simple Formula that Works like Magic on Cracks and Sores
This is another simple formula that almost 9,000 people on Amazon are in love with. The first three ingredients are water, glycerin (the popular humectant), and stearic acid. Stearic acid is non-drying; it works as an emollient, as well as a protective barrier.
O’Keefe’s includes dimethicone and paraffin, both of which are waxy ingredients that form a veil over the skin. There’s no conclusive research about whether these ingredients are harmful, but some worry they aren’t properly nourishing the skin. But whatever the research turns out to be, there’s no doubt that O’Keeffe’s works wonders on cracked hands. You put it over cracks and sores; it stings a bit, but then it protects the skin and, pretty soon, your cuts are healed. It also absorbs well.
4. Deciem Hand Chemistry
Hand Cream that Targets the Signs of Aging, Meant to Firm up and Hydrate Your Skin
This is a formulation that has worked for Angela in particular. And Hand Chemistry doesn’t just target dryness, it targets aging; it’s meant to make your hands firmer, brighter, and smoother. The first three ingredients are water, caprylic/capric triglyceride, and propanediol. The latter two may sound like scary chemical ingredients, but they’re actually both known for being gentle.
The first one is derived from coconut oil and glycerin and helps restore skin. The second acts like a toner, helping the skin absorb nutrients. Both are hydrating. Most of the other ingredients in here have a similar effect, and the lotion isn’t greasy. There is Fragrance listed as an ingredient, and it smells like artificial fruit–doesn’t seem very irritating to the skin, though the aroma is a hit-or-miss.
3. Supergoop! Forever Young Hand Cream
For Outdoorsy Types: Includes Sunscreen and Skin-Nourishing Plant Oils
If you drive for hours and your hands are constantly in the sun, try taking this hand cream out for a spin. It’s SPF 40 and helps with the fine lines and spots caused by the sun’s rays. It is a chemical sunscreen, though, so give the active ingredients list a glance to see if you’re allergic to anything.
As for inactive ingredients, there’s vitamin- and moisture-rich argan oil, caprylic/capric triglyceride (introduced above), and ceterearyl alcohol, which is fatty and often used as an emollient and texture stabilizer. No water, so the cream is very thick and takes a few minutes to absorb into the skin. However, it is hydrating and though there’s a plant-y scent to it, it’s light and pleasant.
2. Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil Body Butter
Rich, Nourishing, and Bursting with Naturally Derived Botanicals
So we realize that this one isn’t technically a hand cream, but after Angela pointed it out to us, we couldn’t resist. The ingredients are either organic or naturally derived with the exception of tocopherol, which is a derivative of Vitamin E. The top of the list reads water and aloe vera leaf juice, argan oil, and caprylic/capric triglyceride, which we introduced above.
The rest of the list is mostly recognizable plant and fruit names, including shea butter and matcha tea extract. There’s even squalane. It’s hydrating, nourishing, and healing–Angela describes it as rich. It is a bit greasy when you first apply it, but you just need to give it a few minutes to dry down. It comes unscented or in ten different fragrances (including hippie beach.)
1. L’Occitane 20% Shea Butter Hand Cream
The Goldilocks Cream: Consistency Not Too Thin or Thick, Ingredients Not Too Weak or Irritating
The first three ingredients are water, shea butter, and glycerin. Shea butter is full of fats and oils, so it’s nice, thick, and creamy (in this formulation, however, the texture is balanced out by water and other ingredients). It’s also chock-full of vitamins, including skin-restoring K and E. Glycerin, if you remember from our explanation above, is a good humectant.
So it’s a good Goldilocks cream, not too light and not too heavy. (It also takes only about a minute for the skin to absorb it.) These ingredients are followed by a number of different good-for-you botanicals and there’s even some urea, quite low down on the list so it’s not irritating. That means it can even be used on chapped hands, where it watches over the healing process.
Are Medicated Hand Creams Worth It?
Hand creams labeled as “medicated” are considered a drug by the FDA and must adhere to their standards. A hand cream can get labeled as a drug if it’s meant to alter the structure of your body or contains certain active ingredients in specific concentrations, such as retinol or shark liver oil.
This means that they can be more effective in caring for extremely dry skin, but they are not necessarily always better. With medicated products, make sure that you always stick to the recommended dosage and intended usage, and, when in doubt, speak to a healthcare professional.
Nowadays, there’s very little room for uncertainty in our society. We want the absolute answer to everything–and that includes our skin problems. However, the human body is complex and, on top of that, everyone’s different. Above, we’ve given you a few guidelines on how to choose a good hand cream and recommended a few reliable products; hopefully, one of them will work for you.
However, the most important thing is to figure out what your body needs, and be patient in your search. As long as you don’t stop looking, the perfect hand cream will come to you.