Dry skin on the hands – What causes it, and what’s the best way to treat it?

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Why is caring for our hands so important?

Our hands are always busy: there’s no other part of our body we use more. All this hard work puts the skin on our hands under pressure, plus it is rarely covered and so is directly exposed to harmful external irritants such as cold, heat, frequent hand washing, pollution and dirt. These can all weaken skin’s natural barrier and cause our hands to dry out.

Our hands have a different skin structure to other parts of our body

Our hands have a different skin structure to other parts of our body:


The skin on the palms and balls of the fingers and thumbs:

  • is rich in fatty and connective tissue (such as elastin and collagen)
  • has a high density of sweat glands but very few sebaceous glands

The skin on the backs of the hands:

  • has hardly any fatty tissue
  • is especially thin and sensitive
  • has few sebaceous glands

Sebaceous glands are responsible for the production of sebum which provides skin with lipids (or fats) and moisture-binding components. Because hands have few sebaceous glands they are less able to bind in moisture than other parts of the body and dry out faster. 

What are the signs and symptoms of dry hands?

The signs and symptoms of dry hands vary depending on the severity and cause of dryness:

  • In its mildest form, hands feel dry and sensitive. They may be slightly red due to their heightened sensitivity
  • In more severe cases hands can feel very dry and rough. Skin may be covered with fine cracks or scaly, tight patches.
  • Underlying conditions such as Atopic Dermatitis can cause skin to become rough, itchy and inflamed.


Symptoms often worsen in winter, as well as after bathing or showering.

The causes and triggers of dry hands

In addition to the structural causes already described, there are both external influences and internal triggers that can cause the skin on our hands to dry out. 

Central heating can dry skin out

External influences include::

  • Environmental factors such as harsh weather conditions and fluctuations in temperature
  • Dry air (caused by central heating and air conditioning)
  • Frequent hand washing and using water that is too warm
  • UV light (which causes skin to age prematurely)
  • Inappropriate skincare: using products that do not support skin’s natural pH and which damage skin’s protective barrier
  • Mechanical irritation (i.e. the abrasion of the outermost skin layer). Some workers, e.g. those involved in craft trades, are particularly susceptible to this kind of skin damage
  • Chemicals, including those used in some detergents
Hot water can dry skin: wash hands in lukewarm water

Internal triggers include:

  • An unbalanced diet and a lack of fluid intake
  • Alcohol and nicotine
  • Stress
  • The skin ageing process: as we get older our skin generally tends to become drier

Dry hands can also accompany other diseases and conditions such as:

How to care for dry skin on your hands


Wash hands in lukewarm water

Try to wash your hands in lukewarm water only, and use a mild soap that supports skin’s natural pH. Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS 5% Urea Replenishing Body Wash have been specially formulated, and are clinically and dermatologically proven, to protect the skin on your hands from drying out even with frequent washing.

Drying your hands

Pat hands dry

Dry your hands carefully after washing and don’t forget the bits in between your fingers. It’s better to pat your skin dry than to rub it.


Moisturise hands regularly to protect skin’s natural barrier

If your hands are sensitive and rough it’s important to use a moisturising care product regularly after washing – especially if you work in damp conditions or are in regular contact with dirt, lubricants and chemicals.

For very dry and rough hands we recommend Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS Hand Cream 5% Urea. With Urea, Ceramide and other Natural Moisturising Factors (NMFs) it has been clinically and dermatologically proven to deliver both immediate relief and intense moisturisation and is suitable for those with Xerosis, Psoriasis, Diabetes and mature skin.


  • Moisturise your hands before going to bed and wear fine cotton gloves so the cream can be fully absorbed.

  • Always wear gloves in cold weather to protect your hands from drying out.

Be sure to keep your fluid intake up, and don’t substitute water with soft drinks which can be high in sugar.


Keep your hand cream next to the wash basin – at home and at work – to remind you to use it. And apply cream immediately after washing your hands as moist skin is particularly good at absorbing the active ingredients.

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