The Best Hand Lotions for People Who Wash Lots of Dishes, According to Dermatologists

Keep your hands from drying out with the right moisturizer.

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December 09, 2020
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Photo by: RuslanDashinsky/Getty Images

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Whether you’ve been an avid home cook for years or you’ve only recently discovered where your kitchen is, no doubt you’re cooking and washing dishes more than ever. As a result, your hands may be taking a beating.

With frequent hand washing and dish washing, comes dry skin. The soap strips the water from your skin, which is what's been keeping it soft and smooth all summer long. "It’s affecting the barrier that you have on your skin that protects it and holds in moisture," says Massachusetts-based triple board certified dermatopathologist Gretchen Frieling, MD, which leads to dry, cracked skin.

Luckily, a good hand cream and some targeted strategies can help make your hands smooth and healthy again.

What Makes a Good Hand Lotion

When shopping for a moisturizer for your hands, texture matters. "A thick hand cream that comes in a tube will protect your skin better than a thin runny lotion that comes in a pump bottle," notes Los Angeles-based dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD, author of Feed Your Face. "Plus, you can carry the tube with you to reapply after you wash your hands."

Emollients and humectants are also key to a good skin cream, Dr. Frieling notes. "Humectants extract water from the air; they pull that into the skin and lock it in," she says. "This prevents the water loss and keeps your skin hydrated." Hyaluronic acid, glycerine, and lactic acid are all humectants she recommends.

"Emollients are good for making your hands feel smooth and soft," Dr. Frieling adds. "If you’re looking at the skin under a microscope, the edges of the skin cells are jagged." Think of emollients as conditioners for your skin; they soften the edges of skin cells and replenish the skin barrier. Emollients to look out for are shea butter and isopropyl palmitate, she says.

Another ingredient to look for in a hand cream is ceramides, "a type of lipid (fat) molecule that helps replenish and repair your skin’s natural barrier," Dr. Wu says. "Ceramides are especially helpful if you have hand eczema, since those with eczema are lacking this molecule in their skin, which is why they are prone to rashes and chapped skin."

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Photo by: alvarez/Getty Images

alvarez/Getty Images

If You Have Sensitive Skin, Avoid Fragrance

"If you have sensitive skin, as a general rule you want to avoid hand creams that contain fragrance, which may inadvertently lead to a hand dermatitis," an irritation that can show up as dry, itchy skin, a rash, or redness and swelling, warns Boston-based dermatologist Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, CEO of Vibrant Dermatology and Skin Bar MD. "In general, I recommend avoiding hand creams that are heavy on essential oil and fragrance. These ingredients are known to be contact allergens and can result in severe rashes with long-term use."

The Hand Lotions Derms Love

Here are the products our experts recommend:

$18.00 for a 6-ounce tube

Contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides, plus it’s fragrance free and suitable for sensitive skin.

Buy It
$8.00 for a 1-ounce tube

Contains glycerine, plus honey, which is a natural humectant, Dr. Wu says.

Buy It
$13.43 for a 16-ounce jar

Fragrance free, formulated especially for people with sensitive skin. Can be used all over the body and on hands, notes Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip.

Buy It
$19.99 for a 400ml (13.5-ounce) bottle

Contains shea butter and prebiotic water to balance the skin microbiome. Can be used on the face and body as well as hands.

Buy It
$6.87 for a 2.1-ounce tube

Fragrance free, with cocoa butter and vitamin E. Suitable for sensitive skin.

Buy It

How to Care for Your Hands

Beyond choosing the best hand cream for you, there are certain practices that can help keep hands soft.

Start by choosing a gentle soap for cleansing hands, Dr. Imahiyerobo-Ip recommends. "Two brands I think provide gentle yet effective washing are Vanicream Gentle Cleansing Bar and Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar," she says. "What’s great about both of these hand-washing products is that they don’t strip the skin’s natural moisture barrier like ordinary soap can. They help to wash away dirt and germs while nourishing the skin."

When washing dishes, use warm water, not scalding hot, Dr. Frieling says. And wear gloves whenever possible while washing dishes.

If gloves aren’t possible, use a gentler dish soap. "Many dish soaps can strip your skin of its natural oils, so try a gentler dishwashing detergent like Babyganics Foaming Dish & Bottle Soap, which does not contain fragrance or harsh sulfates that can be hard on your skin," Dr. Wu says.

Be sure to moisturize hands every time you wash, and try leaving a little bit of dampness on your hands when you apply cream, Dr. Frieling says. Be sure to rub cream into fingertips and cuticles. If your skin is very dry, try applying lotion and then wearing gloves at night.

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