Written by Katherine Martinko
If you live in a cold region of the world, as I do, then you’ll know how keeping your hands moisturized is an endless battle. The combination of dry indoor heat and brutal cold outdoors makes it nearly impossible to keep hands soft and supple. I used to think that cracked skin, bleeding knuckles, hang nails and frayed cuticles were inevitable, and that I just had to be more diligent about applying lotion on a regular basis, but it never made much difference. I’ve since learned a few ways to make moisturizing more effective. Try these tips and you’ll no longer fear winter’s dry skin epidemic.
1. Wash your hands with natural soap.
Many people associate soap with dryness, but true soap should not dry out your skin. Traditionally, soap was made from fats combined with an alkalizer, but now harsh chemical detergents are added to the mix, making soap more alkaline and harsher on your skin. You can avoid chemical-laden soaps by choosing one with a vegetable glycerin base or liquid castile soap. (Generally speaking, the clearer the soap, the better, though this doesn’t always apply, so be sure to check ingredients.)
2. Ditch the mainstream hand lotion.
It sounds counterintuitive, but lotion as it’s sold in most stores is not nourishing. Gillian Deacon, author of There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, explains:
“Conventional hand creams contain any number of hazardous ingredients to watch out for, including synthetic thickening agents, such as triglycerides or palmitates, and the ubiquitous polyethylene gycol (PEG), designed to help moisturizers penetrate the skin. Remember that PEG opens up pores, which allows every other hazardous chemical swifter access to blood vessels.”
Lotion is simply an emulsion of oil and water, with loads of awful additives to make it smell and feel nicer. The good news is that you can go straight to the source – to that nourishing oil – without putting the other crap on your skin.
3. Just use oil.
There are many kinds of oil that work as great moisturizers. Coconut oil is most popular, with its antioxidant and antibacterial properties. It gets absorbed into the deeper layers of skin, strengthening tissue to make it look firmer. Deacon writes, “Enzymes in the coconut lipids aid in removing the outer layer of dead skin cells, making the skin smoother.” I’m partial to the smooth sensation of coconut oil; somehow it seems less greasy than other oils. Other options are grapeseed, jojoba, sweet almond, and olive oil.
4. Moisturize before bed.
The only downside of using oil as a moisturizer is that it can be greasy, which makes it challenging to use in the middle of the day. Apply generously at night, locking in the moisture with cotton gloves before going to sleep. Deacon suggests a nighttime scrub using a handful of brown sugar mixed with sweet almond oil; rub all over your hands to condition and soften.