Why are my hands so dry and cracked?

someone treating chapped hands with hand cream

Suffering with dry and cracked skin on your hands is common and typically does not indicate any serious illness or ailment. However, it can be an incredibly irritating condition. Although usually caused by a variety of different environmental factors, such as the weather, exposure to chemicals or frequent handwashing, a number of medical conditions can also cause the skin on your hands to dry out and crack. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep the skin on your hands hydrated and crack-free.

Regardless of the cause of your dry, cracked hands, here at Heathcote & Ivory we understand that this condition can be very irritating and affect multiple aspects of your life. With this in mind, we’ve put together this handy article to help you understand exactly why hands can get so dry, what conditions can see the skin on your hands crack and even bleed, and ultimately what you can do to treat this exasperating condition and how you can improve the overall health of your skin.

Why do my hands get so dry?

There is an array of different causes that could be contributing to your dry hands - both external triggers and internal causes. In order to get to the bottom of what is causing your hands to dry and crack, it’s important you are aware of the potential triggers. Only then can you directly address the cause and allow your hands to heal.

External causes include:

  • Environmental factors: Harsh weather conditions, particularly when the temperature drops in winter, are a common cause as your skin can struggle to maintain its natural moisture. Similarly, fluctuations in temperature, for example if you often move from hot to cold environments, can also act as a trigger.
  • Washing your hands too much: Naturally washing your hands is incredibly important, especially as the world continues to battle COVID-19. However, washing your hands too regularly, exposing your hands to hot water too often, and not drying them properly afterwards can remove the natural moisture in your skin and cause your hands to become chapped.
  • Chemical exposure: Many common household products, such as washing-up liquid, laundry detergent and even hand soap can contain harsh chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin. Regular exposure to these chemicals can damage your skin's natural barrier, causing irritation and dryness.
  • Unsuitable skincare products: Dry skin, not only on your hands but also on other areas of your body, can be caused by using inappropriate skincare products. Products that don’t support your skin’s natural pH level damage its protective barrier, which can lead to your skin struggling to stay hydrated naturally.

Internal causes include:

  • Diet and dehydration: An unbalanced diet can cause dry, chapped and even flaky skin on all areas of your body, including your hands. Similarly, not taking on enough fluid can lead to skin struggling to hold on to its natural moisture.
  • Stress: When you feel stressed or anxious, your body produces more adrenaline, which means you sweat more. This can result in your body becoming more dehydrated as you are losing more fluid through your sweat glands than usual. Additionally, stress and anxiety can also trigger a number of dermatological conditions such as eczema and psoriasis - both of which can target your hands.
  • Alcohol and nicotine: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it has the ability to dehydrate your body and dry your skin out if you drink too much. Similarly, nicotine - the addictive stimulant drug found in tobacco - can affect the function of your immune system which, in turn, can cause your skin to become dry, chapped or even inflamed.

Why do hands crack and bleed?

If the skin on your hands still becomes cracked - or, worse still, becomes so sore and irritated that it starts to bleed - and you have ruled out all external and internal causes listed above, you should seek the advice of your GP or another healthcare professional. Although the cause is very unlikely to be anything serious, cracked and bleeding hands could be caused by a medical condition that may require specialist medication to treat. Medical conditions that can present with dry, cracked and bleeding skin on your hands include:

  • Atopic Dermatitis / severe Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Ichthyosis
  • Contact Dermatitis / severe skin allergies
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Diabetes

What helps dry cracked hands?

As we have discussed above, when it comes to keeping your hands hydrated and crack-free, prevention is key. When you have discovered what triggers your hands to become irritated and dry - be that the cold weather, exposure to harsh chemicals or even a medical condition - you can work on tackling the issue.

However, it’s a fact of life that sometimes, no matter how careful and diligent you are when it comes to avoiding triggers, dry, cracked skin on your hands may return. While we always recommend seeing your GP or another healthcare professional if your dry skin continuously persists or becomes unbearable, there are a number of things you can try incorporating into your daily skincare routine first.

Skin that is already cracked is more prone to infection, and this is why it may be better to use a dermatologically tested, scent-free cream to repair the worst of the damage. Once the skin has begun to repair itself, you can use a high-quality daily hand cream to help prevent the extreme dryness and cracks from returning. In particular, look out for hand creams that contain shea butter and vitamin E, as these ingredients are especially good at protecting the skin.

By simply applying a hand cream four or five times a day - particularly after washing your hands - you can help to lock in your skin's natural moisture. For more extreme cases, you can even use your favourite hand cream to moisturise your skin overnight. All you need to do is cover both hands in a generous layer of cream and put on a pair of old cotton gloves to lock in the moisture.