Protecting dry, chapped, bleeding hands from infection
January 29, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

So it's winter, and through a combination of excessive hand-washing and laziness, I've let my hands get dry and chapped to the point where they're developing cuts and bleeding. There are so many cuts, I'm not able to keep them bandaged anymore, and am very worried about infection (especially when I visit the doctor's office tomorrow.)

I just started using Vaseline on them at night, with cotton gloves, and am getting a couple of soaps and creams that are said to help out immensely. Vitamin E oil also. Also trying to cut back on the hand-washing, as this is not helping either.

Again though, I'm incredibly concerned about the cuts getting infected. I am keeping them covered with bandages and using Neosporin/generic ointment, but it's a losing battle - currently have so many little cuts, it's a losing battle just to keep everything covered. At the point where my hand looks like one big Band-Aid. And of course I have to replace them all every time they get wet, or I go to the bathroom, or whatever...

I bought some latex gloves at CVS that do me well around the house, but am not sure what to use for work, and out and about doing daily things, and especially at the doctor's appointment.

Any advice, MeFites?
posted by zbaco to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This stuff worked a treat on a relatives cracked heels. It took a few days to start working, and stung a little the first time it was applied, but it did the job of patching the skin back together.

Perhaps try some thin cotton gloves for when you're out and about. Cotton can be washed at high temperatures to kill off any nasties, and wearing them will stand out less than latex.
posted by Solomon at 2:48 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is the stuff that my sister used to treat her cracking hands. You might also want to try a non-alcohol sanitizer and try to not wash your hands at all otherwise. If they're mostly surface cracks your risk of infection is low unless you're immunocompromised. This is tougher for feet where they stay moist and covered a lot. Do you live somewhere where it's cold? Latex gloves under outdoor gloves is fine and cotton gloves that you wash should be acceptable for work. People understand chapping and cracking and would probably be pleased that you are trying to handle it on your end. Most importantly I'd really listen to what the doctor says as far as what works and what doesn't work to minimize infection and encourage healing. Sometimes medical advice is counter to what we think is going to best address these issues. I'm sorry you're dealing with this, it sounds unfun.
posted by jessamyn at 2:56 PM on January 29, 2015

I glue up all my cracks with this stuff. It stings like hell, but it does a really good job keeping the cracks sealed up so they can heal.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:57 PM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Bag Balm. It smells atrocious, but it's what you need right now. It will get you right.

I would wear either cotton gloves or wrap my hands loosely in some gauze while they heal up. Wear latex gloves around the house and to the doctor's office.

Once your hands are back in fighting shape, get yourself a nice big pump bottle of aveeno and slather that shit on twice a day, no excuses.
posted by phunniemee at 2:57 PM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Very unfun. No winter gloves at the moment, though have some coming soon. Many of them are cracked down to where I can see red, and some of them have been oozing. Several actually started bleeding yesterday, it got so bad.

On preview: Used the liquid bandage for a couple of days - unfortunately, many of the cracks are on the knuckles, so it flakes right off after a couple of hours, or even after a couple of hand washes (gotta wash after I pee, you know.)
posted by zbaco at 3:00 PM on January 29, 2015

Hydrolatum offers a lot of protection.
posted by alms at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2015

(gotta wash after I pee, you know.)

I think this would be a good use for the latex gloves. For things that would normally require handwashing, but aren't super messy (like managing your junk while you pee), put on a pair of gloves before said event, and use proper glove technique to remove them afterward. This would cut down on the number of times you need to wash your hands while you're waiting for them to heal.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:16 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

You could use this as a barrier. It can be cut with scissors if you want small pieces.
posted by cabingirl at 3:32 PM on January 29, 2015

You should not be worried about infection, as well as not worrying about continuing to wash your hands. If you continue to use a lotion of your choosing, your hands will heal. Be diligent about handwashing, though it may be uncomfortable to do so, and reapply your lotion of choice after handwashing. Your use of vaseline is wise, as it's also a barrier between your wounds and the outside world (Aquaphor is another commonly used ointment for the same reason). Cover your hands when exposing them to cold, winter air--even if your hands are too rough to wear fuzzy gloves, you can find a pair of isotoners or similar smooth material--you very simply need a barrier from the very, very dry air while (and after) you heal. Putting this paragraph another way: your immune system will do a much better job than any prduct will, although a barrier layer would not hurt.

Things to avoid: products containing any of the drying alcohols (e.g. ethanol, isopropanol, etc.), topical antibiotics (triclosan, neosporin, etc.), essential oils (peppermint, lemon, etc.). These things can and will likely further irritate your already-irritated wounds.

Urea-containing creams are often helpful, but I wouldn't use them on my hands for very long as they can have unintended effects, especially on your fingernails. Physicians frequently advise them for really short term use on hands, but much more often for heels/feet/areas away from nails.

(Source: I'm an epidemiologist who deals with 'hospital hands' as a matter of routine)
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:40 PM on January 29, 2015 [15 favorites]

You can buy thin cotton gloves at most drugstores. Wear them while you're out and about. You can slather on lotion underneath and then have a barrier that protects the skin while you're going about your daily life. My father gets terrible cracked hands in winter and lives in these gloves. He gets several pair and washes and alternates them. When they get worn, he throws them away as they're inexpensive. I'd wear cotton instead of latex.
posted by quince at 4:07 PM on January 29, 2015

When I was a kid, this happened to me every winter, and my mom made me do this (which I still use to this day):

-glob up your hands with vasoline (seriously - go nuts)

- put on white cotton gloves (you can get a pair at the drugstore)

- go to sleep for the night

- in the morning, take gloves off, take usual shower then put on regular hand cream/moisturizer.

- repeat nightly as necessary (usually 2 nights does the trick)

It sounds crazy but it works!

During the day drink lots of water, and then extra water. Arctic air is the silent dehydrator.
posted by floweredfish at 4:08 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

This has been helping my dry and cracked hands this winter. It's cheaper at my local wholesale big box place.
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:21 PM on January 29, 2015

I'm on the other side of the divide [sic] regarding Vaseline. Aside from some vague petroleum worries, when I had a couple months of severely chapped lips, Vaseline did not help. At. All. Mine did not clear up until I used a cortisone cream. Now lips are thinner than the skin on your hands so take that into account. I also swear by urea creams for cracked heels.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:24 PM on January 29, 2015

Please replace suggestions of Vaseline with Bag Balm, get yourself some cotton gloves, if possible and smear the Bag Balm on to your hands as often as possible. The point of the gloves is to keep the Bag Balm from coming off on things you need to handle every day. Bag Balm has a mild analgesic effect as well as a mild antiseptic effect and it will work fairly quickly to restore your skin to a healthy, smooth state. It's available online and in all kinds of stores from CVS to WalMart.
posted by Lynsey at 4:55 PM on January 29, 2015

As someone who deals with gnarly hands this time of year (flu season, extremely dry winter climate), I get cracks and bleeding all over the place. The knuckles are the worst, aren't they? Another rotten spot that cracks for me is down at the base of my palms around by my thumbs.

What works for me is exactly what late afternoon dreaming hotel suggests above.

I try to go about my normal routine as far as hand washing goes (it's very important to keep up with that, especially this time of year. Right after washing my hands, I immediately put on some moisturizing lotion. This Neutrogena lotion is my go-to. Widely available, not too expensive, not greasy, absorbs quickly.

I also try to avoid alcohol hand sanitizers as they dry things out worse. And just as late afternoon dreaming hotel suggests, I try to avoid irritants, so really scented soaps and things like that. (My workplace kills me as the soap in our bathrooms is a rotten heavy-duty antibiotic soap that is extremely scented, which makes my hands even more irritated.)

I avoid antibiotics or things like that. Tiny splits like that on your hands won't get infected as long as you're washing them and keeping them clean. The immune system will handle it... the Nu-Skin liquid bandage sort of stuff can help sometimes but often it just makes things crack and pull away worse for me! I just try to wash my hands, keep them clean, and moisturize like none other (right after I clean them).

Last thing- I would strongly discourage the latex glove idea, or finding ways to avoid washing your hands. That seems like it could cause a lot more trouble than it's worth, and would make your hands more likely to get infected.
posted by Old Man McKay at 5:05 PM on January 29, 2015


My partner is an auto technician and during the cold months, his hands are always dry, cracked and bleeding. I gave him my jar of lanolin (which I use for my lips; although one of its most popular uses is among nursing women with chapped nipples) and it not only helped with healing the cuts and redness, but with deep-moisturizing and protecting his hands the following day. He uses it before bed and it seems to go a long way, enough that he it reapplies it maybe once a day or every other day. This is after years of him using the popular O'Keefe's Working Hands cream (which is not a bad product, but I'd recommend lanolin over it for these more extreme cases).

Nthing the Bag Balm. That stuff's great, too.
posted by nightrecordings at 5:26 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lanolin is great stuff but there are some people who are allergic, so be cautious.
posted by glasseyes at 5:36 PM on January 29, 2015

I used to have miserably dry hands all winter, until I started using pure shea butter. Thick and waxy stuff, but it melts right into your skin and forms a super emollient layer of loveliness. Here's my trick - don't just put moisturizing stuff on after you wash your hands. Put it on before you get your hands wet. Sure, the jar will get manky, but you're about to wash off any bacteria! The layer of the shea protects you from washing off your skin oils at the same time.

I use it three times a day now: before bed, before showering, and after showering. I wash my hands a minute or so after applying. My hands are doing great.
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:55 PM on January 29, 2015

I go with Vaseline or Bag Balm (whichever jar/tin I find first) under the cotton gloves when this happens in the bitter cold bits of winter. Don't put a thin coat on-- seriously slather the stuff on thickly, as mentioned above. I hate the greasy-hand feeling, but I know it works.

I learned about vaseline from an orthodontist who loaded up my cracked lips during a wire-replacement on my braces. My lips were actually supple within the 15 minutes or so it was on, and I was a convert. But for that 15 minutes, they were thickly gunky with vaseline, not merely glistening with a veneer of the stuff.

Vaseline is way cheaper than an invasive knuckle infection, so go to town with the stuff.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:16 PM on January 29, 2015

My husband and I refer to Miracle of Aloe Hand Repair Cream as "hand spackle" for a reason.
posted by telophase at 7:50 PM on January 29, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all for the advice. Went to the store today to pick up more gloves, got back and realized they're the "one-size-fits-all" which means "doesn't fit me all that great". Too late to go back to the store tonight, so I'll just have to make do. I figure if I bandage up tomorrow and work the gloves over them somehow, I should be OK at the doctor's office...right?

It may seem silly, but I REALLY don't want to catch anything from there that could be avoided.
posted by zbaco at 9:05 PM on January 29, 2015

Stop washing your hands when you pee. If you have a discharge or gonorrhea or some kind of an infection, yeah, okay, you will help stop the spread of the germs and keep from getting the infection in your eyes so you gotta wash. But healthy urine is a remarkably clean substance. It is basically free from bacteria.

In fact, I would suggest that you stop doing everything that results in getting your hands in the water, even skipping your shower for a day or two or three. Let the cuts scab over. Scabs are very good at keeping germs out too.

Wear disposable plastic gloves like food service workers use for anything that might get your hands dirty and stop washing your hands altogether. And don't leave them in the plastic gloves. Get them exposed to air and sunlight.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:12 PM on January 29, 2015

Forgive me if I'm off-base, but you sound like you may have an anxiety disorder--the excessive hand washing and near-morbid fear of infection from openings in the skin (covering your hands with bandages and antibiotics) are ringing some bells for me. If you're washing dozens of times for reasons other than using the bathroom or preparing food, please consider getting treatment for this. The hand washing guidelines on this page may be useful to help you see what's considered normal.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:28 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey, no worries. Just trying to stay clean and safe. Will take a look at that site, but I think I'm ok. Thanks for the info, though.
posted by zbaco at 10:17 PM on January 29, 2015

Just to point out that many alcohol hand gels have skin conditioners in them so they will do less damage to your hands than washing them repeatedly. I work in a hospital and have problems with dry hands - occupational health have told me that I mustn't wash my hands unless they are visibly dirty or I've used hand gel 5 times (you develop a residue after a few uses). I also use a conditioning lotion at least 4 times per day. This has helped immensely.

When my feet have been bad in the past I've found that Vaseline is great for avoiding more damage, but it's not a very good moisturizer by itself.

I wouldn't worry toooooooo much about the doctor - they are more worried about me because having cracked skin makes it more likely I'll carry bacteria between patients than about my health as such.
posted by kadia_a at 11:05 PM on January 29, 2015

Plastic or latex or nitrile gloves are going to make this worse, avoid those (I wear them all day at work so trust me on this). Particularly latex gloves over a weeping wound, ug, so horrible. Also, if you happen to have any kind of mild allergy to something you're using (e.g. latex) it can make the cracking and irritation worse even if you don't have any other symptoms. So that's something to look out for. Personally perfume is my bugbear so I avoid anything that smells, your mileage may vary.

Breathable cotton gloves are a much better idea. You can put stuff on your skin under them as everyone is recommending. And/or you can even put the non-breathable gloves on over them if necessary, you'll probably need a bigger size. That's surprisingly warm too.
posted by shelleycat at 11:32 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gold Bond makes a hand cream with a very high silicone content that is evidently favored by hair stylists and the like and it's the first thing I've ever used where I still feel like it's on after I've washed my hands. But I would, here, for the very short term, wear disposable gloves for just the things you'd ordinarily need to wash your hands after, then throw them away, and maybe even go so far as the rubber-bands-over-gloves trick for in the shower, just to give them a couple days to just flat out heal without more water exposure. But I think you're making much ado about nothing, to a point; be more concerned about encouraging healing than infections. You really need to be putting lotion on regularly and NOT washing them, period, until they've had a few days to recover. Not "washing less", but no soap, no water, no alcohol, nothing drying. Then a high-silicone hand cream as mentioned above which will help to create a barrier to the air, and once they've healed a little you can go back to washing them some, but take it easy.
posted by Sequence at 1:46 AM on January 30, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all for the advice. Some trouble at doctor's, but assuaged my fears that I didn't have to worry about picking up some nasty bug from there.

Used Vaseline and some fuzzy aloe-infused gloves last night, and that helped. Using some of that Peet's stuff tonight with the gloves, and will go out and get some more cotton gloves today to wear around the house and such. I really really want to keep these cuts covered and protected from infection, especially when I'm out in public, but you all are right...they need air to heal...and I need to stop washing them.

FYI: Peets works great when you use it throughout the day. Amazing what a difference Peet's makes during the day, and I bet I will be good to go by tomorrow.
posted by zbaco at 9:19 PM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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