Everyone develops dry skin on their hands at some point in their lives. Blame it on the weather, improper skin care, or daily tasks such as washing dishes or gardening. But, dry scaling skin on your hands that persists may be a sign of a more worrisome health problem or disease. Early diagnosis, medication and treatment can prevent further complications, says the American Academy of Dermatology.
A likely cause of dry, scaling skin is eczema, which is also called dermatitis. Hand eczema also causes skin to itch or crack, and can be very painful, states the National Eczema Association, or NEA. Several factors may trigger hand eczema, for instance, if you had childhood allergies or other skin problems, if you frequently wash your hands for your job, or exposure to harsh chemicals. If you notice that the dry, scaling skin on your hands does not clear up on its own after a few weeks of using moisturizers, the NEA recommends consulting your physician.
Over 7.5 million Americans have this skin condition, an autoimmune disease. Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, or NPF. It’s characterized by raised, red lesions or patches covered by a white, scaly buildup of dead skin cells. Psoriasis develops when your immune system increases the rate of skin cell growth. While skin cells usually mature and shed within 28 to 30 days, if you have psoriasis your skin cells mature after three to four days—but they do not shed.
If you’ve spent years soaking up the sun’s rays you may develop actinic keratoses—dry, scaly areas on your skin that are the first signs of skin cancer, explains the American Academy of Dermatology, or AAD. They can develop on your hands, as well as other areas, such as your neck or head, basically any area that’s been exposed to the sun. In most cases, actinic keratoses show up after age 40, and you’re more susceptible to them if you have fair skin. If you suspect that you have actinic keratoses, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
If dry, scaling skin persists for more than two weeks, even with at-home care, consult a dermatologist as soon as possible, advises the NPF. Dermatologists are health professionals who specializes in treating skin, hair and nail conditions. They can properly diagnose your skin condition and recommend medication and at-home treatment.
For eczema, your doctor may recommend corticosteroid or immunomodulator cream. The best treatments for psoriasis are medications and products specifically approved for treating this skin condition, states the NPF. Visit their treatment guide at the link provided in the resources below.
Treatment for actinic keratoses include cryosurgery—or freezing the skin or scales until they flake off, explains the AAD. Other treatments include chemotherapy, topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, chemical peeling and laser resurfacing.
At-home remedies you may find useful include avoiding the irritant or harsh chemical that’s causing the dryness and scaling or wearing gloves. Use lukewarm water with a scent-free, gentle cleanser or moisturizing soap and apply moisturizer immediately after you wash your hands. Remember to apply sunscreen to your hands, as well. The NEA recommends sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as they're less irritating.