It is now officially the “dead of winter” here in the Northeast where I live, and lots of us are plagued by hands that are weathered and rough from the cold, dry air.

There are many reasons for this beyond the obvious cold temperatures. Most of us are washing our hands frequently to avoid catching colds and the flu. Some are using hand sanitizers on a regular basis too.

We can’t change the weather, but we can make some changes to our habits that will infuse some new life and moisture into dehydrated winter hands.

Cleanse with Care

It is a good practice to wash your hands frequently after being in public places or in the company of others to avoid catching a virus. However, the way you wash matters:

  • Wash with cool or lukewarm water. Hot water is drying to the skin.
  • Choose soap with a simple, clean ingredients list. A creamy glycerin or vegetable oil-based soap with almond, coconut or avocado oil is a good choice. Read labels for drying ingredients like sulfates, triclosan, lye, and acids. You don’t need an antibacterial ingredient like triclosan to kills germs. Simply cleansing hands thoroughly with soap and water for 40 to 60 seconds will do the trick.
  • Watch the clock while you wash. Most people rush through, which means they aren’t fully washing away the germs. Forty to 60 seconds is a lot longer than you think!

Avoid hand sanitizers

I’m simply not a fan of antibacterial hand sanitizers. Ingredients like triclosan create antibiotic-resistant bacteria and they are typically loaded with alcohol. I understand that there are instances where it is the only choice available, but for regular sanitizing, please go the sink and wash your hands instead of using hand sanitizers, no matter how pretty they smell.


Believe it or not, our hands require exfoliation too! In order to moisturize effectively, it is helpful to remove the dead skin cells that are blocking the absorption of the needed hydrating ingredients. You can use the same salt scrub or sugar scrub that you use to exfoliate your body. Again, here I prefer a clean, natural formula—one with vegetable oil as the base. Peach kernel, avocado, coconut, almond, and olive oils are all nice. After thoroughly exfoliating, apply a layer of moisturizer. For an added boost to this hydrating hand treatment, put on a pair white cotton gloves and wear them to bed. When you wake in the morning your hands will be soft and lovely. You should exfoliate once or twice per week during these dry times.


The type of moisturizer you apply makes a big difference. Avoid those that contain the drying ingredients we discussed above regarding hand soap. Skip the fragrance and artificial colors—they don’t do anything beneficial for your skin. The fewer ingredients in your hand cream product, the better. I am a fan of shea butter for protection during the cold winter months. Lanolin and glycerin are excellent too. Choosing ingredients that mimic your own natural oils can be beneficial as well. Jojoba, argan oil and squalane are wonderful ingredients if you are choosing moisturizing oil vs. cream. I like to layer by applying a moisturizing oil followed by a shea butter cream for an extra boost of hydration. For those who want to go all natural and very simple, you can use organic coconut oil. No matter which moisturizer you use, it is imperative that you apply it immediately after each hand washing.


Shielding your hands from extreme temperatures and the weather by wearing gloves is critical. Keep extra gloves in your car, handbag and in your coat pockets at all times, and always put them on when going outside. The cold air and low humidity can undo all of the good work you have done with your new cleansing, exfoliating and moisturizing routine.

Another way to protect your skin from the inside out is by keeping your body hydrated. Many people drink much less water than they should when the weather turns cold. Additionally, getting adequate Omega 3 fats in your diet from fish or supplements will help reinforce the lipid layer in your cells, increasing hydration. Eating fatty fish like salmon two or three times per week or taking fish oil at 500-1000 mg/day is a good target.

Keep your hands subtle and lovely, even during the coldest days of winter by following the tips above. And for more on how to take better care of the rest of your skin, click here. If you have some tips of your own to share, please add them to the comments below. We love learning from YOU too!

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

Related Articles