Cracked, chapped, red, dry hands are a common problem for children and adults alike. Many associate dry hands with cold weather, but in truth, they can present year-round, in any climate. Causes of dry hands can vary, and do include cold, dry air in addition to repeated contact with a skin irritant, allergen, or otherwise inflammatory environmental aggressor, as well as food intolerances and poor diet. Here’s a scenario which demonstrates how a Certified Nutritional Aesthetics Practitioner™ CNAP) might advise a client with dry hands.

Client: Please help! My hands have become unbearably dry and chapped.

“They are so dry that my finger pads are cracking open which is painful and embarrassingly unattractive. I’ll admit that my less-than-glamorous, part-time work is hard on my hands. As a barista, my hands are practically bathed in sanitizer after each and every latte and as dog rescuer, my hands do more than an average share of dishwashing and floor mopping. I slather on the lotion every chance I get,  but it doesn’t seem to help. Is it even possible for me to still have full-time glamorously healthy hands?”

CNAP: For a burst of TLC for your dry hands, consider a hand treatment at the spa.

“Many spas use paraffin wax as a treatment for dry hands, but I’m not a fan of paraffin because it is an occlusive–meaning it lies on the surface and traps in moisture–but doesn’t deliver any actual nourishment into the skin. Most paraffin treatments also come with artificial dyes and perfumes which could make matters worse in the long run. Instead, ask for a treatment with either beeswax or candelilla wax, along with an emollient butter like shea or cocoa butter or natural plant-based carrier oils. The treatment might be a warm mixture you dip your hands into, or it might be applied as a salve or balm, and then covered with heated gloves or towels to help the essential fatty acids and antioxidants work their magic.”


“That sounds divine. But what can I do on a more regular basis?”


“Your hands need some extra protection from the constant exposure to harsh chemicals from the sanitizer and detergents on a daily basis. While these detergents are often mandated for sanitation reasons when working with food and pets, they can wreak havoc on the skin’s natural lipid barrier and microbiome (the ecosystem of beneficial bacteria and microflora that exist on the surface of the skin and enforce its immune function), and leave the skin more susceptible to sensitivity and slow wound healing.

First and foremost, I recommend that you wear protective gloves whenever possible at work, to protect them from these harsh chemical ingredients. I also suggest keeping a tube or jar of a nourishing and protective herbal balm or salve with you at all times, and apply after every handwashing. Look for a beeswax or candelilla wax based one with a calendula-infused carrier oil like jojoba or apricot kernel. Apply the salve before bedtime, and cover them with white organic cotton gloves while you sleep. This helps to keep the salve on the skin and also prevent water loss through the skin. Also, avoid antibacterial soaps and synthetically fragranced products, as the chemicals in these will exacerbate the irritation and make matters worse.”


“You mentioned that dietary issues might be a possible cause of my dry hands. What can I try with my diet to help from the inside out?”


“There are definitely a few aspects of your diet that can improve or exacerbate your skin dryness. I’d recommend looking into these to support your topical treatments and environmental changes. Although we’re not breaking a sweat as much during the winter, hydration remains important. Drink water or herbal teas throughout the day to ensure that you’re well-hydrated. Your body can retain that moisture optimally if your diet contains plenty of healthy fats—like avocado, raw nuts and seeds, cold-pressed oils, and organic grass-fed butter—that strengthen and maintain the membrane of your skin cells, which helps to lock in moisture.

Eat plenty of foods with vitamin C, like colorful peppers, strawberries, leafy greens, and citrus, since high levels of C have been shown to correlate with improved hydration in the skin. Foods that contain beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, are also helpful to balance oil production in the skin. Try winter squash, carrots, sweet potato, and, again, plenty of greens like kale, chard, and spinach. Finally, limiting the sugar and processed foods in your diet can help alleviate your dryness, as well as any itchiness and redness that might accompany it, since these foods dehydrate the body and increase inflammation.

Last but not least, it’s helpful to keep a journal to track your progress as you incorporate these changes. That will help you see what’s working best, and what still needs adjusting.”

CommentAre chapped, dry hands a problem for you?

We’d love to know…what changes have you made to your diet, topical regimen, or lifestyle that’s helped? Please share with us in the comments below!

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