How can I fix my really dry knuckles and fingers?
July 10, 2009 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I am a 25-year-old male, and I have a problem with dry knuckles and fingers. I don't have a problem with dry skin anywhere else, but my knuckles and fingers crack and itch they get so dry. Putting on petroleum jelly at night helps some. I put on lotion during the day but it doesn't help much. I live in San Francisco now, and didn't have this problem when I lived in Maryland where it is much more humid. In fact, I recently went back for three days to Maryland, and my hands were almost completely better by the time I came back. Would a humidifier at home and/or the office help at all? Is there some sort of great hand lotion that I can use during the day (that won't leave my skin greasy like petroleum jelly)? Or should I just schedule an appointment with my doctor?
posted by fourmajor to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could have a contact allergy to something in your environment. If the dry skin is just on your fingers, it could very well be because of something you're touching on a regular basis that you don't even realize you're touching (even the finishes of some furniture can do it).

You may want to check with a dermatologist, because if it's an allergy, you can get medicine for it (or avoid the allergens), and if it's not, those kinds of skin problems can build up over time.
posted by xingcat at 11:11 AM on July 10, 2009

I can't say enough good things about Eucerin for dry skin related things. It's absolutely awesome stuff. We use the original variety, in the little canister.
posted by jquinby at 11:13 AM on July 10, 2009

I have this problem during the winter! I use Aquaphor, which works great. It's about as greasy as petroleum jelly, but if you only use a small amount, it seeps in pretty well and feels more smooth than greasy.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:13 AM on July 10, 2009

I agree that you should get this looked at, but in the mean time, Bag Balm.
posted by hermitosis at 11:13 AM on July 10, 2009

Like xingcat, I would check to see if something in your SF environment is irritating your hands. A soap at your work? Something that you use in SF that you don't have access to in Maryland?
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:15 AM on July 10, 2009

I used to have the WORST crocodile hands, and my skin is very tan so the white ashiness showed and looked horrible. I figured out a cure. Your hands should be smooth in a week if you try this:

1. After a late shower when your hands have been wet for a while because of the shower, pat your hands dry. Pour a quarter cup of sugar or salt into your palm and chase it with a glug of olive oil. Massage it all around so the granules sand off your dead skin.

2. Rinse, pat with a towel until damp (not dry), then rub in a thick moisturizer (Eucerin and Curel are great- I prefer Curel as it's not as waxy but still has very long-lasting effects).

3. Then cover that with a thick layer of petroleum jelly, then cotton gloves and sleep that way.

4. The next morning, apply more Curel, and keep a little container of it in your bag.

5. Apply more Curel after every hand washing all day, and after handling large amounts of paper, fabric (ie, laundry) or dusty objects- these all dry out your hands.

6. Wear rubber gloves for wet or chemical work like doing dishes or cleaning windows.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:22 AM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I recommend Neutrogena Hand Cream. It comes in a small box (they have other variations of lotion, which are larger and cheaper, but not the same). Inside is an even smaller tube -- 2 oz. It will seem a little pricey (about $5), but you use a tiny amount. It really works, and sinks into the skin so you aren't left greasy. It comes fragrance-free, so you don't smell like perfume. Apply it every time you wash your hands, and before you go to bed. In about a week, you'll be good as new.
posted by Houstonian at 11:23 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

How often do you wash your hands? I have this problem with antibacterial soaps in particular. If you are extremely health conscious and wash often, cut back and see how that works. If your job demands it, glycerin or glycerin based lotions work best for me.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:23 AM on July 10, 2009

You do NOT need a humidifier in San Francisco--that's probably the issue! The fog is already taking care of your needs for humidity, but probably more than necessary.

When I first moved to SF I had a similar problem, but in time my skin adjusted to all the water in the air. I also have a tube of moisturizer at my desk that I use after I've washed my hands--each and every time. That certainly helps.
posted by ohyouknow at 11:26 AM on July 10, 2009

A humidifier might help, but I would strongly recommend the use of gloves or even socks while you sleep. I have had a similar problem with my feet, and by applying lotion or moisturizer on my feet then immediately covering them up with socks (or in your case, gloves) before going to sleep, I nearly eliminated my problem. I would recommend Burt's Bee's, which are healthy products for you, the environment, and animals.
posted by dtpollitt at 11:27 AM on July 10, 2009

I have this problem and my doctor diagnosed it as eczema on my hands. She gave me a steroid cream that works, but I don't like to use it all the time because it thins out your skin. I really, really love Bath & Body Works' Look Ma, New Hands -- it's the best stuff I've ever used that is commercially available. It's not sticky and it works in fast, but it's thick and does the job really well. Sleeping with cotton gloves (you can get them at the drugstore) on after moisturizing also can help a lot.
posted by pised at 11:34 AM on July 10, 2009

What do you use to dry your hands?

I had a similar problem a couple years ago; my hands looked like elephant hide and no amount of lotion helped until I diagnosed the culprit as the paper towels in the bathroom at work (I wash my hands a lot). As soon as I started letting my hands air-dry or using a nice soft hand towel that I kept at my desk for this purpose, it cleared up considerably. (Bonus: I create a lot less trash.)
posted by anderjen at 11:46 AM on July 10, 2009

Climb On! bar.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:48 AM on July 10, 2009

I have dry, cracky hands, too. I think it's because I wash my hands a lot (like at least once an hour and probably more). When it gets really bad -- when they start bleeding -- I'll put neosporin (or generic triple antibiotic ointment) on the bloody cracks before I go to bed and cover with a bandaid. For prevention, cocoa butter works better than anything else for me, and it smells great too.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:49 AM on July 10, 2009

Seconding Neutrogena during the day. It's the least greasy, and it works.

Beware Bag Balm if you're sensitive to lanolin! Lots of people are.

Petroleum jelly with cotton gloves over at night. You will feel like Howard Hughes, but it makes a big difference.
posted by palliser at 11:59 AM on July 10, 2009

I second M.C. Lo-Carb's comments. Neosporin if cracked and bleedy, cocoa butter (or coconut oil) for preventive maintenance. I use food grade coconut oil to put between my toes after bathing to prevent moisture induced cracking. It is solid at not-too-hot room temp and a little bit goes a long way. I purchased it at Whole Foods for about $12 or so for a tub that has lasted well over a year.
posted by ranebo at 12:03 PM on July 10, 2009

glysomed is really good
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:08 PM on July 10, 2009

I go through periodic bouts of dry skin due to weather changes and some existing skin issues when I was born premature. Gloves and socks never worked for me at night, because I'd take them off in my sleep and the goo I covered my hands in would then be on my pillow or on my face when I woke up.

The original Eucerin formula is fantastic, Bag Balm works for some issues but has lately been giving me a rash, a couple of Burts Bees hand lotion formulas... all are great.

Personally, I've grown very fond of raw, unrefined shea butter. A tub of it looks like crumbled, very yellow butter, but a little goes a really long way. Put some on in the morning and in the evening and your skin will soften up in short order.
As for where you can buy it, I'd try to find it in a health food store before looking on the internet.
posted by neewom at 12:09 PM on July 10, 2009

Any of the heavy lotions mentioned here - Eucerin, Aquaphor, Neutrogena (I think it's their "Norwegian Formula"), etc. - will help a lot. Use them consistently, not just when you start cracking. I would give an OTC lotion at least a week to work before bothering to schedule an appointment.
posted by lakeroon at 1:13 PM on July 10, 2009

My sister has this and finds that Zim's Crack Creme works pretty well. If I were you, I wouldn't google it, just click here.
posted by jessamyn at 1:28 PM on July 10, 2009

Thanks everyone. From the comments, I am going to try the following:
- buy cotton gloves and use petroleum jelly nightly. I already use petroleum jelly but without the gloves.
- it sounds like a lot of people here recommend Neutrogena. I am going to get some of this and keep it in my bag that I carry with me and keep it at my desk. I do have a ton of Vaseline Intensive Care so maybe I will keep that near the sink to apply immediately after washing my hands.
- If these steps don't work after a few weeks I will schedule an appointment.

And also, to answer some questions, I have changed jobs twice and changed homes twice since I've lived in San Francisco, so I don't think it is something in my immediate environment. I also usually use hand towels to dry my hands. I know that my choice of soap has changed several times as well. I do wash my hands a lot but I see this as a necessary thing, especially when dealing with food.
posted by fourmajor at 1:41 PM on July 10, 2009

Agreeing with Hermitosis on the Bag Balm, I've never seen anything work like it. Kajillions of Farmers and Milk-maids across the land will agree.
posted by goml at 2:11 PM on July 10, 2009

Also agree on Bag Balm. Combine with cotton gloves.

I can attest to how much dryer California is than the East and South. My skin goes into desert-shock when I go back to CA to visit family.
posted by radioamy at 2:26 PM on July 10, 2009

Lansinoh brand Lanolin does a really really good job of healing and protecting dry skin. It's sold as a balm for breastfeeding mothers to use on their nipples, though, so that may or may not be weird for you. Lanolin is an ingredient in a lot of lotions, but this is the pure stuff.
posted by fancyoats at 3:13 PM on July 10, 2009

Cotton gloves, yes. And with them try Vaseline Problem Skin Therapy. It comes in a little tub and actually has petroleum jelly in it, but absorbs fairly well. Use a lot of it plus gloves for an hour or so while you're hanging around the house - overnight is, IMO, overkill - I get the same results from one hour as overnight, without the awkwardness of trying to sleep with warm lotion-soaked gloves on. If you can't find that kind, try something similar - ie: contains petroleum, is made for elbows and other rough areas, and contains no fragrance.

Also buy a barrier cream like Prevex (ask the pharmacy to recommend one, not sure if that's a brand exclusive to Canada) and use that first thing in the morning. The barrier cream will keep water and irritants (like, say, dish soap) from drying out your hands. Going to the doctor will result in a trial and error series of steps - eliminating harsh and scented soaps, trying barrier cream, possibly an antifungal, and when all else fails, cortisone. Try these steps above first and see what happens. I live in Canada and have horribly dry skin and eczema. If this helps me it will help anyone.
posted by SassHat at 4:27 PM on July 10, 2009

I will also add that if your hands start to get itchy or even more dry, it might be what you're putting on them - everyone's skin is different, of course, but if your skin is dry and sensitive it could be your skin's way of saying "no more!" Sometimes it seems easier to keep slapping more lotion on it, but that might be, ironically, what's making it worse.

I have had problems with Vaseline intensive care (contains mild fragrance), bag balm (lanolin), udderly smooth (lanolin), most types of "regular lotions" which contain fragrance (ie: curel, most types of vasoline lotion, jergens, lubriderm, dove, etc). And if you are prone to cold sores you want to avoid Zim's (contains arginine). Natural brands like Burt's Bees can be good, but again, a lot of them will contain fruit and botanical extracts which can also irritate the skin. Trial and error! Don't give up.
posted by SassHat at 4:44 PM on July 10, 2009

Petroleum jelly does nothing for me. I once had badly chapped lips. Every day for three months (in sub-zero winter, then in tropical humidity) I applied it to no avail. Finally got a tube of 1% hydrocortisone. Cleared it up in three days.

Same thing with cracked hands, feet. The only thing that worked was an Australian creme called DU'IT with 25% Urea, as well as Dimethicone, Vit E. Not greasy, pleasant scent.

I'd never use petroleum jelly.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:23 PM on July 10, 2009

Here's an anecdote for you: An acquaintance had very dry skin, could barely move without pain. Rubbing a whole gallon of oliveoil into the skin supposedly worked very well.
posted by Ingenting at 12:48 AM on July 11, 2009

In case the moisturising options don't do anything, have youself checked for psoriasis. Moisturisation can actually make things worse in that case.
posted by Zarkonnen at 2:33 AM on July 11, 2009

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