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Dry and cracked hands - these are the causes and therapies
Many people know cracked hands, especially in winter. Low temperatures clog the skin - on the one hand due to the cold itself, and on the other hand due to the dry air in the heated rooms. Even those who wash their hands frequently, take a shower very often, or come into contact with chemicals promote dry skin on their hands.
Different skin types
People have dry, normal or oily skin. For example, some have oily skin on the face, but dry skin on the hands. This is the so-called combination skin. Those who naturally store little moisture in the skin are particularly at risk of developing cracks and should pay particular attention to skin care. Dry skin usually has particularly tight pores.
Just a cosmetic problem?
The complaints are not just an aesthetic problem. Rather, they indicate that the natural acid protection of the skin is impaired: This acid protection protects against environmental influences. If it breaks open, inflammation forms faster and we become susceptible to allergies.
The sebum glands provide the protective acid mantle, it consists of a mixture of water and fat. This keeps the moisture inside the skin. With a lack of fat and moisture, the hands become cracked.
Why the hands?
Cracks on dry skin can form anywhere on the body. However, hands (and feet) are affected very quickly because the skin is thin there and has little sebaceous glands.
Washing too much is harmful
Washing your hands regularly is the best protection against viruses and bacteria, because most pathogens are ingested through the mouth, that is, by putting fingers that contain pathogens in your mouth.
But too much of a good thing damages the acid protection of the skin. If we use common soap, we not only wash away the dirt with every wash, but also the fat produced by the body and damage the natural protective layer. Exaggerated hand hygiene thus promotes allergies and inflammation. We should apply hands after every wash. If we do not do this, it does not automatically lead to cracks, but the skin tightens and becomes brittle.
If the weather is added, eczema may develop. If the protective layer is attacked and dry indoor air such as cold winds put additional strain on it, the acid protection will no longer withstand at some point.
Affected hands are dry, they feel like parchment. The skin turns red and looks pale at the same time. It scales and itches. Sometimes open wounds arise.
In severe cases, a network of cracks, redness and abrasions forms. The skin becomes inflamed and those affected become infected with bacteria and fungi. The skin burns or itches on contact with water.
These severe cases are particularly common in young children, the elderly and atopic dermatitis patients.
In addition to the weather and excessive personal hygiene, too little water and improper nutrition lead to cracked hands, as well as nicotine and alcohol, hormonal fluctuations and stress. Genetic systems rarely play a role.
Cracks in the hands in old age are not a disease, but a natural process, as the skin stores less moisture and forms less fat in old age.
Skin diseases have chapped hands as one of several symptoms, especially fish scales, neurodermatitis, psoriasis and contact eczema. Diseases that involve cracked hands but are not skin diseases are, for example, diabetes mellitus or an underactive thyroid.
Other causes are a lack of vitamins and minerals, for example a deficit in iron.
Home remedies for cracked hands
If you have a skin condition, you need to see a dermatologist. In general, however, you can do good prevention. Wear gloves against the cold in autumn and winter. Lubricate your hands with fatty cream in the cold season. Drink enough, because the acid protection needs water as well as fat.
Wash your hands carefully. Use mild soaps and lukewarm water, moisturizing shampoos and moisturizers. Wear gloves when working in the garden or household, for example made of cotton.
Cleaners are at risk
If the acid protection is broken, the immune system overreacts and triggers inflammation itself. Cracks appear on the hands and the skin itches. Anyone who works a lot with liquids and chemicals is particularly at risk, for example cleaning staff who use disinfectants and constantly dip their hands in liquids that are mixed with cleaning agents that not only wash the dirt from the floor, but also the protection from the skin.
Cortisone with caution
Doctors often prescribe cortisone cream for treatment. The reason: this hormone reduces inflammation by reducing the overreaction of the immune system. But be careful: cortisone should only be used until the severe symptoms alleviate.
It is better to use wash gels that have a neutral pH value in advance, rather than disinfectants, which also destroy the beneficial bacteria on the skin.
Those who suffer from it, their fingernails are also often brittle, and the facial skin looks dry. These people seem older than they are.
Women in their mid-40s are particularly affected because the body produces less estrogen from menopause, which in turn keeps the skin elastic.
Women of this age, in particular, pay attention to their appearance and complain of wrinkles or dry skin. Instead of running straight to the cosmetic studio, they can apply oily creams and drink more water. Creams with a water-in-oil solution are suitable. They are not removed when washing hands and keep snow and rain away from the skin.
Home remedies that help
Wrapping your hands in a warm cloth with hand cream in the evening helps, as does a pad with a mixture of high-fat curd cheese and banana jam. The curd dries and can be removed without problems after about half an hour.
Suitable fat donors are wool fat from sheep, jojoba oil, coconut oil and shea butter, as well as petroleum jelly, which above all does not allow moisture to escape from the skin. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Thomas Werfel et al .: S2K guideline for neurodermatitis, German Dermatological Society, (accessed September 6, 2019), AWMF
- Dorothea Terhorst-Molawi: Dermatologie Basics, Elsevier / Urban Fischer Verlag, 4th edition, 2015
- Martin Röcken, Martin Schaller, Elke Sattler, Walter Burgdorf: Taschenatlas Dermatologie, Thieme Verlag, 1st edition, 2010