Dry skin is a common problem, particularly on the hands, which are exposed to the elements of weather, frequent washing and household cleaning products. When your hands are dry, they may become red, irritated and itchy. Your skin may start to flake, scale and even crack. Fortunately, dry skin can often be treated conveniently and inexpensively with over-the-counter remedies.
According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, dry skin is particularly common in winter, with the arms and legs most frequently affected. Low-humidity climates can cause or exacerbate problems with dry skin. People who wash their hands frequently, such as health-care providers, may strip their hands of valuable moisture with soap and hot water. Washing dishes or cleaning house can expose your hands to harsh cleansing products. Limit irritation by wearing rubber gloves when you clean.
More serious causes of dry skin on the hands include eczema and dermatitis. In fact, the University of Rochester Medical Center's website reports that "your immune system may overreact to an allergen that results in an itchy rash known as atopic dermatitis or eczema." Other causes of dry skin include psoriasis, a build-up of rough, scaly dead skin cells, and hypothyroidism, in which your body produces too little thyroid hormones. Thyroid disorders can reduce the activity of your sweat and oil glands, leading to dry skin.
Common symptoms of dry skin include redness, flaking and itching. Your skin may crack, leading to fissures that can bleed if left untreated. Dry skin may appear shrunken or shriveled and may feel tight, particularly after washing. If you have large areas of peeling or flaking skin, intense red or brown discoloration, blisters or a spreading rash, this may be a sign of a more serious problem requiring treatment by a dermatologist.
Treatment for dry hands is readily available over the counter in pharmacies. Hand lotions, ointments and creams are formulated with essential oils that can provide relief and stop itching. Apply hand cream after each time you get your hands wet, particularly after washing. You can also slather on lotion at night and wear cotton gloves to help protect your hands, which can prevent you from scratching them in the night. Look for moisturizing hand and bath soaps for added soothing.
Keep your skin from becoming too dry by making sure your body stays hydrated. Drink plenty of water, aiming for at least 64 ounces a day. Avoid immersing your hands in water without wearing rubber gloves, and keep the water lukewarm, rather than hot. If you suspect your dry hands may be related to eczema, visit a dermatologist who can correctly diagnose the condition and provide prescription treatment to help avoid flare-ups. Medications that can prevent eczema symptoms include corticosteroid ointment and oral antibiotics or antihistamines.