If you’re washing your hands often, or subjecting them to endless soakings in alcohol-based sanitiser gel, they’re probably really feeling the strain right about now.
Many of us will be struggling with contact dermatitis caused by the alcohol and soap: itchy, raw, cracked skin that stings on the slightest contact with water or sanitiser. But what can you use to help the soreness?
The British Association of Dermatologists has this to say about sore hands:
“Moisturisers (emollients) are an essential part of treating hand dermatitis. They help repair the damaged outer skin and lock moisture inside the skin making it soft and supple again. They should be applied generously after hand washing, repeatedly through the day, and whenever the skin feels dry.
So whatever you chose needs to be applied frequently in order to repair the damage, so it has to be something your skin can tolerate!
And here’s what the National Eczema Society has to say about the best moisturiser for the job:
‘Ointments are usually the first choice for treatment. They have the highest oil content of all the products (followed by creams and then lotions), so they don’t generally burn when they’re applied to sensitive skin and are very good at sealing in moisture.”
Ointments contain oils that can seal up the gaps in the epidermis, creating a fine, occlusive layer that protects the skin from external irritants, and from moisture being lost to the air. They help strengthen the skin’s barrier function which is damaged when the skin is cracked or raw.
Creams, on the other hand, are made with water, and can sting if they get beyond the top layer of skin. They’re less likely to stay put and are usually made with fragrances and preservatives that can add to the irritation for sensitive skin.
So maybe the best cream for cracked hands is actually an ointment! But which ointment should you pick?
Most conventional emollients are made from paraffin or other petroleum-based ingredients. They're very efficient at protecting skin, acting as a kind of waterproof second skin or raincoat, that keeps moisture in and protects broken skin from irritants.
Unfortunately, you may find them unpleasant to the touch; they can smell strange as well, and often have to include scent-maskers or additional synthetic ingredients to make the paraffin or petroleum jelly acceptable to be used. Petroleum-based emollients are very efficient at protecting broken skin, but are sometimes a bit too efficient, with the barrier they form being 'occlusive', ie totally waterproof and impermeable to air, which means that the skin underneath can get hot, damp and increase the risk of infection, as those are exactly the sort of environments microbes really love. And some people's skin just doesn't get on with paraffin!
We make Skin Salvation with beeswax rather than paraffin. Beeswax forms a semi-occlusive barrier, which will let skin breathe healthily, while still keeping the skin hydrated and protected. It’s also a natural humectant, meaning it draws water into the skin, and when made into a salve, is a great emollient, softening the rough scales of the skin. And to add to those nifty benefits, beeswax is also naturally antimicrobial, which means it can help reduce the risk of infection.
All in all, a beeswax-based ointment is a great choice for really sore, cracked hands. Plus, it has the advantage of being eco-friendly: what more could you want?!
Balmonds Skin Salvation with beeswax and hemp, from £7.99 for 30ml
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.