Winter’s cool and crisp air may be invigorating, but it gets the best of us. Exposure to dry and cold conditions—even for a short time—saps skin of moisture. Add constant hand washing to prevent germs and you’ve got a recipe for chapped and cracked mitts. Hiding indoors doesn’t help. When skin is exposed to drier conditions with lower humidity (the typical environment of most overheated homes and offices), it responds by losing moisture.
What can you do? Begin by moisturizing your hands at least twice a day with a good-quality product. Get to know the ingredients in the products you’re buying. Conventional moisturizers have a basic combination of the same ingredients: propylene glycol, petrolatum, mineral oil, alcohol, glycerin, synthetic fragrances, parabens, and synthetic colorings. Many of these are petrochemicals, so environmentally speaking they are not the cleanest of choices, and some are skin irritants.
In addition, when toxic ingredients get absorbed through the skin’s outer layer, the body’s blood supply can potentially take them deep within the body. It can take years for these ingredients to be broken down and eliminated from the body.
Fortunately, there are natural alternatives. Plenty of nontoxic ingredients can nourish hands by replenishing natural moisture in the skin’s outermost layer while protecting the existing moisture content and still supporting the skin’s infrastructure.
What to Look For
Avoid greasy, heavy, and oily formulations. After all, you don’t want your hands slipping off the steering wheel or sliding down the computer keyboard! Products should be readily absorbed and leave skin feeling dewy and soft.
Shea butter and oils such as jojoba, coconut, or olive are pure moisturizing ingredients. To lock in moisture, glycerin is one option (check that it’s the vegetable variety). Consider, too, ingredients like squalane and L-sodium hyaluronate to hydrate the skin.
If your hands are flaky and irritated, you may benefit from moisturizers enhanced with the healing power of vitamin E. Beeswax is another ingredient to consider as it soothes and softens.
Plant-based oils such as argan (rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin E), neem (soothes and protects sensitive skin), sea buckthorn (aids in cellular rejuvenation), and kukui (a nut oil that replenishes dry or mature skin) are luxurious options to protect, repair, and moisturize skin.
Be sure to shop for hand moisturizers scented with essential oils and herbal and floral extracts instead of synthetic fragrances.
Cue the Cuticle
It’s time cuticles got the spotlight they deserve. Too often they are ignored and left looking ragged and torn. There are reasons to pay them heed though. Cuticles protect the area where the nail grows from, so treating them with care prevents the chance of infection and damage to the nail matrix.
Cuticles in need of some care can be helped with an application of nail oil applied with a cotton swab after showering. To moisturize this delicate area, look for products that contain olive oil or jojoba oils. Some nail oils may contain neem oil, which is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal.
To improve cuticle and skin health, consider massaging your hands. In Ayurvedic self-care, this is an essential step in boosting circulation and alleviating dryness. For a simple and all-purpose Ayurvedic moisturizer, try sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter). To soften ghee from its semisolid, room-temperature state, run warm water over the closed container.
Feed Your Skin
The foods you fill your grocery cart with can make a difference in your skin’s appearance. Besides helping you look and feel your best, a healthy diet reduces internal inflammation. Avoiding inflammation is important, since it can damage skin cells and cause you to age. Foods rich in essential fatty acids can help lessen inflammation. Consume pumpkin or sunflower seeds, salmon, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, and avocados.
Remember to drink plenty of fresh, purified water. If your body’s dehydrated, your skin may reflect that.