Dry skin doesn't have to be a thing. 

By Erika Stalder
Dec 16, 2020 @ 9:23 am
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Hand Serums To Save Your Dry Skin
Credit: Getty Images

Nobody wants to admit it, but most of us don’t wash our jeans, bras, or pillowcases as often as we probably should.

Ditto for our hands — or at least that was the case before the pandemic came along and whipped us all into shape, right? Now that COVID-19 protection means compulsively pumping hand sanitizer onto our palms in-between extended washing sessions, our hands are finally being treated to the kind of infection prevention that we should have been engaging in all along. By and large, that’s a very good thing. “Since our hands are a major vector for transmitting all kinds of microorganisms in our environment, cleanliness and hygiene support a reduction in bacterial load for a reduced transmission of pathogenic organisms,” says Dr. Ava Shamban, a Los Angeles-based cosmetic dermatologist confirms. 

But the catch is that the more stringent we are with hand washing, the more we’re likely to compromise the skin barrier.

“It may be paradoxical, but the more we wash hands to prevent infection, the more dry and cracked the skin on our hands become and the more susceptible to infection our skin becomes,” says Dr. Flora Kim, a board-certified dermatologist based in Dallas. Dr. Kim points to a recent survey of health care workers published in the Journal of American Dermatology, in which nearly 75% of respondents reported damage to the skin on their hands due to enhanced infection prevention measures. 

With research showing SARS-CoV-2 can enter the body via a cell receptor found in the blood vessels of the skin, basal layer of the epidermis, and hair follicles, we, too should be seeing the kinds of dry hands that are befalling health care workers. But it’s not just viruses that gain an easier point of entry with a compromised skin barrier.

“Furthermore, when your skin barrier is compromised, you are at higher risk for other preventable conditions such as irritant contact dermatitis and other inflammatory skin disorders,” Dr. Kim points out. So how do we keep the skin on palms, fingers, and dorsal hands from drying and crumbling like marzipan? Derms tell us the solution isn’t as easy as adding hands to our facial care routine.

As Dr. Shamban points out, many facial serums that we rely on to promote cellular turnover (such as formulas containing retinol or retinoid serums) may use actives dosed at concentrations that are too harsh for our hands, cuticles, and nails. What’s more, the skin on our hands isn’t as equipped to self-hydrate as on other parts of our bodies.  “Unlike facial skin, the skin on the hands have less oil glands,” says Dr. Onyeka Obioha, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California. Fewer sebaceous glands and lipids mean our hands are naturally more dry because they aren’t equipped with the kind of built-in lubrication system as the skin on our face.

“Therefore, the most effective way to replenish depleted skin lipids and trap in moisture is to coat the skin after hand washing every single time,” Dr. Obioha says.

That means washing hands with the frequency of a surgeon — though an excellent start — is not enough. “The chronic irritation from frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing can also cause the hands to look dull and aged,” Dr. Obioha says. “Now is the time, more than ever, to start a simple, yet effective hand care routine.”

Yes, she just said “routine.”

Thankfully, piecing together a post-washing hand care regimen is considerably more straight-forward than the elaborate routines we concoct for our face. Sunscreen aside (let’s presume we’re applying SPF to our hands when dousing the rest of our body), overachievers may want to apply a targeted hand serum to give skin a concentrated dose of actives — like hyaluronic acid to hydrate or niacinamide to brighten — before locking in hydration with a lotion or ointment. Others may opt for a lotion only. Those who can’t stand the greasy or slippery baggage that come with lotions and ointments may be better off with a smartly formulated serum geared to hydrate. Our derms say these are all better options than “none of the above."

“I believe that the most important thing is to repair the skin barrier with the right ingredients or building blocks that your dry overwashed skin needs,” notes Dr. Kim. “Whether these needed ingredients are delivered via the vehicle of a serum or a cream is of secondary importance.”

Her top ingredients to repair a compromised skin barrier? Triglycerides, wax esters, free fatty acids, squalene, ceramides, and cholesterol.

Hand health and aesthetics aside, there’s one more reason to regularly use hand serums and/or lotions: it demands a self-care massage in an increasingly touchless world. “Tactile touch releases oxytocin in our bod, which helps reduce stress and promote well being,” says Dr. Rachel Milstein Goldenhar, a clinical psychologist who specializes in psychodermatology. “Massaging lotion or serum into our hands is a way to give this tactile boost.” 

No matter how you engage in hand care, a wash-and-go mindset should be left in the monstrous heap of things to leave behind in 2020.

So if you need a little help finding a hand cream to love and use after every washing, we’ve got you covered. 

And as far as finding a hand serum to treat and nourish dry and otherwise ignored hands goes, find 8 options that will leave you with nourished skin, ahead.

VIDEO: Can COVID-19 Live on Your Beauty Products?

La Mer The Rejuvenating Hand Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
Credit: courtesy

“Frequent application of emollients with ceramides, glycerin, petrolatum, dimethicone, fats, and oils is the best way to protect the skin barrier,” says Dr. Obioha. This serum, which boasts dimethicone and petrolatum as primary base ingredients, serves as a great stand-in for those who can’t stand the thick and greasy consistency that plagues many hand lotions. It’s as lightweight and absorbent as your favorite gel cream, quienches dryness and leaves hands feeling silky, but not slick.

To shop: $115; nordstrom.com

Sparitual Citrus Cardamom Hand Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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For those who need an instant incentive for applying a hand serum after washing will find the most therapeutic reward when dispensing this non-sticky gel: a bright hit of neroli, bergamot, cardamom and lemon that transports you to an orchard of blossoming orange trees. Ahh-factor aside, the formula also packs moisture-attracting humectants (which Dr. Kim also favors) like aloe vera and sodium hyaluronate and antioxidant-rich pumpkin fruit extract, Swiss apple stem cells, and licorice root. “Using a hand serum rich in antioxidants [that are] appropriate for the hands can improve skin quality as well as boost the protection of this skin,” Shamban says.

To shop: $25; amazon.com

Serumkind Black Blossom Hand Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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This vegan option (with synthetic beeswax inside) has the look and feel of a lotion, but melts into skin like a serum. The formula is also primed for preventative aging: fatty acids fortify the skin barrier while a peptide complex and beta glucans help bolster elasticity. 

To shop: $27; completone.com

Olive & June Hand Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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“In the absence of dry, cracked skin, serums are helpful to prevent age spots and wrinkling on the hands,” notes Dr. Obioha. This gel-cream moisturizes like a lotion (thanks to ingredients like glycerin, avocado oil and jojoba seed oil) and delivers immediate softness (complements of skin-smoothing cactus flower) while fruit-derived alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate, brighten, and prime us for a future with fewer dark spots on our hands.

To shop: $18; oliveandjune.com

Defenage 8-in-1 BioSerum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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Plenty of serums geared for the face are too sticky for multi-tasking hands — but not this one. The gel formulation disappeared into the skin on our hands in an instant and allowed us to type moments later without sending fingers slipping all over the keyboard. Though it’s made with plenty of actives (including a retinol alternative, brightening niacinamide, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and a bevy of antioxidants), the formula didn’t irritate our hands either, proving not all hand-appropriate serums are marketed as such. “Personally, every day, after applying anti-aging serums to my face, I rub the excess on my hands for added benefits,” Dr. Obioha says. “This is a good practice to get into.”

To shop: $75; defenage.com

TenOverTen Hand Repair Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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This serum’s cucumber scent took us back to languid spa days in expensive hotels — but the formula itself took our knuckles from the verge of scaley to supple and ready for their mani shot on Instagram. The work horses inside? Fatty acids, plant-derived squalane (shown to increase cell turnover), and hyaluronic acid, which worked together to give our dorsal hands the kind of dewiness we’re always trying to capture in our complexion.

To shop: $28; violetgrey.com

Aveda Hand Relief Night Renewal Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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If we didn’t know better, we’d count this lightweight lotion as a facial moisturizer — and a mighty good one at that. It’s made with classic hydrators (capuaçu seed butter, glycerin, and dimethicone); ingredients for brightening (licorice root extract, salicylic acid); skin barrier strengtheners (linoleic acid, fatty acids); plumpers (hexapeptide-8) and inflammation busters (caffeine). In a pinch, would we use it as a stand in for our favorite face cream? Absolutely. In the meantime, it’s keeping the skin on our hands from looking (and feeling) over-sanitized. 

To shop: $37; nordstrom.com

Pai Labs Free Bird Hand Serum

best moisturizers for dry skin
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Made to counteract the drying effects of hand sanitizer, the serum is stocked with prebiotics sourced from chicory root to balance the skin’s biome, a host of fruit oils and glycerin to hydrate, and vitamin E to soothe dry and irritated skin. 

To shop: $14; paiskincare.us