Now more than ever, you may find it necessary to practice a little hand and nail care. Constant hand washing, exposure to excess sunlight and other irritants, can leave hands dry, red and irritated. Learn what to do and what not to do when it comes to your hands and nails.
The skin on the hands
The skin is one of the largest organs in the body, with three layers – the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. While the skin on the palm of the hands is thick, the skin on the back of the hands is the thinnest on the body. Because it is the most frequently exposed part of the body, it is a common area for photoaging and conditions like eczema and psoriasis from exposure to environmental stressors.
Preventing and treating dry hands
While dry, chapped hands are a very common condition, there are many ways to prevent and/or treat them. It is particularly important for those whose professions require them to have their hands in water all of the time – from dishwashers to nurses and surgeons. Many of the detergents and solvents used in washing and disinfecting the skin also tend to dry it out. Here are a few suggestions for maintaining healthy skin on the hands:
- Wear gloves – There is a vast assortment of gloves designed to protect hands from the elements, from latex rubber to cotton. Rubber gloves are best whenever you are working with toxic solvents (turpentine, wood stains, pesticides, etc.). If your skin is sensitive, there are latex-free gloves available. Keep in mind that even though you are wearing glove, it’s important to know how to put them on and take them off. You should still wash your hands before and after wearing them in the event that the gloves have small leaks or tears. Cotton gloves are a good choice before going to bed if you are treating dry, chapped hands.
- Use a moisturizer throughout the day – the best prevention is to use a soothing hand cream or balm (like our All-Purpose Body Balm) after working with water or irritating ingredients. You may have been washing your hands more frequently lately due to the CoVid19 virus pandemic, which may have left you with red, irritated hands or even contact dermatitis. Balms are recommended for more intense/nightly hand treatment once the skin has been stripped of its protective lipid layer. If not, hand creams can help prevent this from happening, but only if they are applied regularly.
- Protect your hands from the sun – sunlight can create problems for your hands. Too much sunlight causes sunburn, dark spots, and a breakdown of collagen, not to mention the threat of skin cancer. Use a barrier sunscreen to prevent sun damage; wear driving gloves or use a UV filter on your car’s windows if possible.
- If skin damage is severe, consult a physician. They are able to prescribe treatments like prescription creams to treat more serious conditions that don’t respond to home remedies. If you have an open sore or severe burn, you should seek professional attention, as these can lead to infection or worse. A physician can also diagnoses other skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
- Use products with ingredients like shea, mango, and cocoa butter, glycerin (plant-based), Vitamin E and pure aloe. Oil-based products are great for restoring the skin’s lipid layer.
The Basics of Nail Anatomy
Like the skin on the hands, fingernails can suffer from too much exposure to environmental stressors. Frequent hand-washing, for example, can leave nails thin and prone to tearing. Exposure to solvents like acetone and gel manicures can also weaken the nail. Like hair and other parts of the body, nails are composed of keratin, a fibrous protein that grows out from the lunula, or the visible portion of the matrix. Caring for nails helps them serve their function of protecting the nail bed from foreign substances and pathogens. It also protects the fingertips. What many people don’t know is that the nail is even more permeable than skin. While our skin can absorb 50-70% of what we put on it, the nail can absorb substances, too. It’s important to know how to care for this important part of our anatomy. We’ve included a few suggestions below to get you started:
- Eat a well-balanced diet – that’s right; the same diet that may leave your hair dry and brittle can do the same to your nails. Vitamin B12 deficiency can leave nails dry, dark and/or curved. A diet containing sufficient protein will promote keratin production. And hydration is important, too- our nails contain as much as 12% water.
- Keep nails neatly trimmed/filed – This can prevent them from catching on objects, resulting in painful tears.
- Use a nail/cuticle oil regularly – when nails are dry, they readily absorb oils, which work well to soften and condition dry nails and cuticles.
- Don’t cut your cuticles – not only can this raise the risk for infection, but it can result in nail ridges. Instead, use a cuticle stick to gently push the cuticle back and keep cuticles conditioned.
- Watch what nail products you use – solvents like acetone can wreak havoc on nails. Many nail polishes contain ingredients like formaldehyde, toluene and other organic solvents that can dry nails out. They are also being absorbed into the body, which is not so good. Try nail products that are 10-free (free of the 10 major harmful ingredients). We love Zoya nail polish. For a list of some good ones, click here.
- Instead of nail polish, try buffing your nails – not only will it leave your nails naturally lustrous, but it helps to increase circulation to the nail bed, which is a good thing.
- Seek professional help if you see anything that shouldn’t be there – fungal infections are common and sometimes require prescription medication. Even skin cancer can appear in the nail area, so don’t wait. Contact your doctor for a consultation.
By taking just a few steps to keep hands and nails healthy, you can avoid the discomfort of dealing with dry, cracked skin and nails. A little care can go a long way.