The demand for high-quality hand care products for dry hands is now higher than ever. Many of us are practicing impeccable hand hygiene in the current climate, as advocated by government officials, medical professionals, and public health authorities including the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization). Unfortunately, a very common consequence of these hygiene measures is the experience of skin dryness. Dry hands are characterized by skin that feels ‘tight’ and looks parched and dull; they can eventually become sore, painful, itchy, rough, or cracked. Contact with lotions or detergents may cause stinging or burning, and the skin can also start to flake off, scale, or peel. Apart from the undesirable appearance of dry hands, they can also prevent us from working to our full potential and cause continuous discomfort throughout the day.
Whether you desire to make hand care products for yourself, family, friends, or your own skin care business, this article covers the physiology of dry skin and how healing cosmetic ingredients can be used together to create or formulate quality products that are specifically targeted towards preventing dry hands or alleviating their symptoms. Read on to discover what exactly causes dry hands, the best cosmetic ingredients and product types suited for dry hands, and three basic cosmetic recipes to inspire you to create your own nourishing hand creams and hand lotions.
WHAT CAUSES DRY SKIN ON HANDS?
Both internal and external factors can give rise to dry hands. Excessive hand washing with bar soap and the use of drying alcohol-based hand sanitizers is a primary cause, along with the use of harsh or irritating cleansing products, such as those that incorporate Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES). Hand washing with very hot water can lead to the skin drying out more rapidly. Low environmental humidity, which means the air becomes very dry, can also increase water evaporation from the skin and cause tiny fissures on the skin’s surface, sometimes resulting in bleeding and stinging sensations.
Apart from these factors, those with sensitive skin may experience symptoms more quickly, and one’s age, genetics, and hormonal health can also influence dryness and skin pliability. In some cases, very dry skin on hands is associated with medical conditions including atopic dermatitis (also called eczema), irritant contact dermatitis, and psoriasis.
As hand hygiene still needs to be impeccably maintained, hand washing and appropriate hand sanitizing habits should never be discontinued. Nevertheless, apart from the relief provided by topical moisturizing, those with dry hands should try to reduce their exposure to harsh chemicals and detergents, wash hands with lukewarm water (not too hot or too cold), and use hand care and hand hygiene products with gentler, milder, fragrance-free, skin-friendly formulations.
THE PHYSIOLOGY OF DRY HANDS AND HOW COSMETIC MOISTURIZERS CAN HELP
The skin is arranged in neat layers, the topmost of which is termed the ‘stratum corneum’. The stratum corneum is made up of cells called ‘corneocytes’ along with lipids that fill up the spaces in between and hold them all together. Corneocytes are technically dead cells and have no nuclei; but this structural arrangement forms a major component of the skin’s protective barrier that helps shield against external pollutants and irritants. The stratum corneum also balances the skin’s moisture content, keeps microbes and germs from entering the body, and provides vital protection from UV light and free radicals.
The lipids found within the stratum corneum, which are integral to the healthy functioning of this protective barrier, are composed mostly of Ceramides (up to 50%) along with Cholesterol and Essential Fatty Acids. The Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF), yet another vital piece of this layer, refers to a group of compounds that are essentially humectants – they draw and bind to moisture, thus playing a key role in supplying hydration to the corneocytes. The compounds that make up our NMF include Amino Acids, PCA (Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid), Lactic Acid, and Urea.
When the stratum corneum is adequately hydrated, not only does the skin look and feel soft, bouncy, and youthful, but the protective function of the skin barrier works optimally. Furthermore, the enzymes that take part in the desquamation (shedding) of the corneocytes can function as well, keeping the skin looking and feeling healthy.
In dry hands, the skin’s stratum corneum lacks vital moisture, lipids, oils and NMFs. The protective function of the barrier becomes impaired and the corneocytes lose water and are unable to shed, creating an uneven, rough, scaly surface.
How Hand Moisturizers Help Dry Hands
The primary function of cosmetic moisturizers (sometimes collectively called emollients) is to hydrate, soften, and smooth out the skin’s texture. A secondary function is to introduce fragrances that can help mask unappealing odors. Types of moisturizers can include creams, lotions, serums, gels, balms, and ointments. These products will vary in their thickness and consistency. Creams, for example, are richer than lotions as they contain a higher percentage of oils and butters compared to water (typically 50% or less).
The skin on our hands can differ from the face and the rest of the body in terms of dryness, sensitivity, tolerance, fragility, aesthetics, as well as exposure to water, irritants, and UV light. Cosmetic formulations developed for hand care products are therefore specialized to address these different needs.
The best moisturizers for dry hands are ones that can draw new moisture to the top layers of the skin, trap that moisture to stay within the skin, and contain ingredients that can help replace the skin’s natural lipids, oils, and NMFs in order to support the repair and restoration of the skin’s protective barrier. These different ingredients work in unison to help address the different symptoms of dry skin. A hard, dehydrated stratum corneum for example will not be moisturized simply by applying oils and butters.
It is also recommended that moisturizers for dry hands be unscented and have thicker formulations (such as a cream or thicker lotions). ‘Heavier’ oils and butters such as Avocado Oil, Argan Oil, Shea Butter, and Macadamia Butter can be particularly nourishing to dry hands. For skin barrier healing, commercial products typically contain ingredients such as Ceramides, Sodium PCA, Amino Acids, Niacinamide, and Cholesterol. Hand cream formulations designed for daytime wear should absorb relatively quickly into the skin and not leave an overly greasy finish to allow the user to continue with their daily activities.
Actives To Use When Making Moisturizers For Dry Hands
The three active ingredients that should be considered in moisturizers for dry hands are: humectants, occlusives, and emollients.
Humectants (to drawn in moisture to dry hands)
Humectants such as Hyaluronic Acid, Glycerin, and Aloe Vera Juice work by attracting water like a sponge or magnet from within the deeper layers of the skin or the air. The functional value of individual humectants can depend on the surrounding environment. In a high-humidity environment, humectants can successfully attract moisture from the air and draw it into the skin. However, in a low-humidity environment, humectants can instead draw out too much water from within the skin, drying it out even further. Because of this, it is always helpful to use humectants in combination with occlusives to prevent moisture loss.
Occlusives (creates a seal to trap moisture within dry hands)
Occlusives are so called because they ‘occlude’ or prevent water loss from the skin’s surface. Using a moisturizer or humectant, for example, draws water into the stratum corneum, but without an occlusive agent, that water will simply evaporate out again. Occlusives do this by helping to form a physical barrier or seal on the outer layer of the skin.
Examples of skin care occlusives include Lanolin, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Beeswax (and other Waxes), and Dimethicone. Petrolatum (Petroleum Jelly), also known as Vaseline, is a popular occlusive available on the commercial market. Ingredients such as Stearic Acid along with some plant butters and oils such as Shea Butter and Avocado Oil also have some occlusive qualities.
Using occlusives by themselves can result in the skin looking overly oily or greasy that still feels ‘dry’ as they do not introduce moisture or water into the skin.
Emollients (to help dry hands feel soft and look more attractive)
Emollients are ingredients used to induce a softening of the skin so that it feels smooth, supple, and untextured. Emollients are important in combating the ‘rough’ or ‘scaly’ feeling of dry hands. Most ingredients that function as emollients can also function as occlusives or humectants. Examples of cosmetic emollients include Olive Squalane and various plant oils and butters.
THE BEST COSMETIC INGREDIENTS FOR DRY HANDS
The reference table below can be used to select the optimal ingredients for an effective, soothing, healing hand cream, lotion, or moisturizer.
DILUENTS & HYDROSOLS(Note: Skin patch tests are recommended before using Floral Waters)
Aloe Vera Juice Rich in Vitamin B complex, Folic Acid, Vitamin C and Carotene, extremely soothing for skin irritations, enhances skin appearance.Chamomile Floral Water Soothes and balances with its anti-inflammatory properties, calms irritation.Rose Floral Water Rejuvenates skin with its hydrating and anti-irritant properties.Rose Geranium Floral Water Cools and tones skin, helps skin stay soft and hydrated.Lavender Floral Water Soothes dry or irritated skin, helps heal skin, balances skin oils.Eucalyptus Floral WaterCalms redness and irritation, helps purify the skin.
Sodium HyaluronateA water-soluble form of Hyaluronic Acid which can provide effective hydration at both surface and deeper levels.Vegetable Glycerine Hydrates dry skin effectively, softens skin, helps heal skin, calms dry or irritated skin.Aloe Vera Juice Rich in Vitamin B complex, Folic Acid, Vitamin C and Carotene, extremely soothing for skin irritations, enhances skin appearance.Silk Amino Acids Helps regenerate and heal damaged skin, enhances skin appearance, highly moisturizing and comparable to naturally-occurring NMFs in the skin.Honey Rich in Antioxidants, helps heal skin, soothes skin irritation, can encourage healthy shedding and skin exfoliation.
EMOLLIENTS(Note: Some emollients, especially those that absorb slowly, can also provide some occlusive benefits)
Olive SqualaneVery skin-friendly, soothing to dry and irritated skin, helps heal skin, helps skin stay soft and hydrated.Avocado Oil Source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, D, E, and Beta Carotene, soothing to dry skin, absorbs slowly and can provide occlusive qualities.Evening Primrose Oil Rich in GLA Essential Fatty Acids, soothing to dry or irritated skin, absorbs slowly to leave a nourished, moisturized finish.Oat Oil Rich in Antioxidants and Tocopherols, skin-friendly, very soothing to dry skin, absorbs slowly to leave a silk-like, velvety finish.Castor Oil Rich in Ricinoleic Acid, helps heal skin, has some antiseptic and humectant properties, absorbs slowly.Tamanu Oil Rich in Omega-6 and Omega-9 Fatty Acids, helps heal skin, soothing to dry, damaged, or itchy skin, can help fade scars, absorbs at medium speed.Sweet Almond Oil Rich in Olein Glyceride Linoleic Acid and Vitamin D, very soothing to dry or irritated skin, absorbs at medium speed.Jojoba Oil Rich in Vitamin E, very soothing to dry or damaged skin, helps heal skin, has some antiseptic properties, enhances skin’s appearance, absorbs at medium speed.Argan Oil Rich in Omega 6 Fatty Acids and Vitamin E, soothes inflamed or damaged skin, enhances skin’s appearance including fine lines and flakiness, absorbs at medium speed.Hemp Seed Oil Rich in Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, soothes dryness and inflammation, helps heal skin, enhances dull skin, easily absorbs into skin.Apricot Kernel Oil Rich in Omega-9 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids, soothing for dry or sensitive skin, helps heal skin, can reduce fine lines or fissures, easily absorbs into skin.Shea butter Rich in Omega 6 and 9 Fatty Acids, very soothing for dry skin, can calm redness and irritation, can heal skin, has antimicrobial properties, can help fade scarring.Cocoa Butter Rich in Omega 9 Fatty Acids and Vitamin E, soothing for dry and sensitive skin, calms irritation, can help reduce scarring and inflammation.Macadamia Butter Rich in Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids, very soothing for dry and sensitive skin, provides a very rich and luxurious feel and skin finish.
BeeswaxSkin-friendly, soothing to dry and irritated skin, helps heal skin, conditions skin, has some humectant and antiseptic properties.Carnauba Wax Vegetable wax that is hypoallergenic, softens skin, soothing to dry skin, can complement Beeswax.Candelilla Wax Vegetable wax that absorbs quickly and can complement or substitute Beeswax.Cetyl Alcohol Skin-friendly, softens skins, soothing to dry skin, can act as an occlusive agent.Petrolatum (Petroleum Jelly) Skin-friendly, soothing and protective to dry or irritated skin, helps heal skin, moisturizes skin.Dimethicone Skin-friendly, provides a lightweight, silky finish to skin, can be soothing to dry or irritated skin.
EMULSIFIERS & THICKENERS
Glyceryl Stearate SESoftens skin, absorbs quickly, and helps skin stay hydrated.Stearic Acid Softens skin, helps skin stay hydrated, produces a rich and luxurious end product.Cetyl Alcohol Skin-friendly, softens skins, soothing to dry skin, can act as an occlusive agent.Beeswax Skin-friendly, soothing to dry and irritated skin, helps heal skin, conditions skin, has some humectant and antiseptic properties.Zinc Oxide Calms dry, irritated, or inflamed skin, helps heal skin, has antiseptic and sun-screening properties.
FRAGRANCE(Note: Always conduct a patch test. In very dry or sensitive skin, essential oils and fragrance oils are not recommended)
Rose Absolute (Bulgaria)Commonly used for its moistening and skin-softening properties for dry and sensitive skin.Lavender Essential Oil Soothes dry or itchy skin, helps skin healing, can enhance skin appearance and radiance.Chamomile Roman Essential Oil Can ease symptoms of inflamed skin, reduces pain and discomfort.Eucalyptus Essential Oil Has antimicrobial and strong anti-inflammatory properties.Tea Tree Essential Oil Purifies and soothes dry skin, eases itching, irritating and discomfort, has strong antimicrobial properties.
Liquid Vitamin EHelps heal skin, soothing to dry and irritated skin, enhances skin’s appearance including fine lines and flakiness.
BOTANICAL EXTRACTS & RAW MATERIALS
Colloidal OatmealVery skin-friendly, rich in Beta-Glucan and Avenanthramides which helps ease discomfort and itching associated with dry or sensitive skin.White Willow Bark Extract (Powder) Contains Salicin, commonly used in anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing applications.Chamomile Extract (Powder) Commonly used in anti-inflammatory and applications, can rejuvenate the appearance of dry skin.Bilberry Extract (Liquid) Contains Anthocyanins, which can improve the look of damaged skin. Adds a natural purplish tint to formulations.Sea Buckthorn Extract (Powder) Rich in Antioxidants, can reduce the appearance of fine lines and soften dry skin.Green Tea Extract (Liquid) Rich in Polyphenols, can purify and soothe dry or sensitive skin.
THREE BASIC DIY COSMETIC RECIPES FOR DRY HANDS
The following recipes can be used to make healing DIY hand creams and hand lotions for dry skin. They can be followed as is or tweaked according to your preferences. To make a fragrance free hand cream or lotion, remove the ‘Essential Oils/Fragrance’ in each recipe and top up with Distilled Water so that the formulation adds up to 100%.
Luscious Bilberry & Chamomile Hand Cream
This decadent hand lotion makes use of Macadamia Butter which provides a soft, rich, velvety feel to the skin. It also incorporates Chamomile Floral Water, known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as Bilberry Liquid Extract, known for its skin rejuvenation and antioxidant properties. Note that Bilberry Extract will imbue the final formulation with its natural hue, providing a pale purplish tint. This nourishing lotion can be applied daily to hydrate dry hands while countering redness and sensitivities.
This recipe will make 200 g (7.1 oz) of rich hand cream.
32 g / 1.13 oz
Chamomile Floral Water
34 g / 1.20 oz
Aloe Vera Juice
34 g / 1.20 oz
Apricot Kernel Oil
30 g / 1.06 oz
Oat Carrier Oil
29 g / 1.02 oz
12 g / 0.42 oz
12 g / 0.42 oz
13 g / 0.46 oz
Bilberry Liquid Extract
1 g / 0.04 oz
1 g / 0.04 oz
Essential Oil or Fragrance
2 g / 0.07 oz
Instructions: Combine the Carrier Oils with the Emulsifying Wax, Macadamia Butter, and Shea Butter in a heat-resistant container. In another heat-resistant container, pour in the Distilled Water, Aloe Vera Juice, and Chamomile Floral Water. Heat both containers (you may use a double boiler or water bath) until the waxes, butter, and oils have thoroughly melted, and the water phase reaches its boiling point. Heat for about 20 minutes. Next, pour the water phase into the oils, butter, and melted wax, and blend well. Keep blending or stirring until the formulation has cooled. Once cooled down, pour in NDA’s Bilberry Liquid Extract and add in your Broad-Spectrum Preservative and choice of Essential Oils or Fragrance. Mix well.
Avocado Shea Rescue Night Cream (For Very Dry Hands)
This opulent hand cream recipe is designed to be very rich for night applications. It incorporates the antioxidative power of Olive Squalane and Vitamin E to help minimize the appearance of fine lines and fissures commonly associated with dryness. Massage a generous amount on the hands right before going to bed to wake up with baby soft and nourished hands.
This recipe will make 200 g (7.1 oz) of thick cream. It is best packaged in a jar or tub.
52 g / 1.83 oz
Aloe Vera Juice
52 g / 1.83 oz
10 g / 0.35 oz
12 g / 0.42 oz
40 g / 1.41 oz
4 g / 0.14 oz
Liquid Vitamin E
4 g / 0.14 oz
6 g / 0.21 oz
18 g / 0.63 oz
1 g / 0.04 oz
Essential Oil or Fragrance
1 g / 0.04 oz
Instructions: Combine the Avocado Oil with the Emulsifying Wax, Shea Butter, Olive Squalane, Liquid Vitamin E, and Stearic Acid in a heat-resistant container. In another heat-resistant container, pour in the Distilled Water, Aloe Vera Juice, and Vegetable Glycerine. Heat both containers (you may use a double boiler or water bath) until the waxes, butter, and oils have thoroughly melted, and the water phase reaches its boiling point. Heat for about 20 minutes. Next, pour the water phase into the oils, butter, and melted wax, and blend well. Keep blending or stirring until the formulation has cooled. Once cooled down, you may add in your Broad-Spectrum Preservative and choice of Essential Oils or Fragrance. Mix well.
Hydrating Hyaluronic Daily Hand Lotion (with White Willow Bark)
This daily hand lotion sinks quickly into the skin and features a powerful humectant for intensive hydration: Hyaluronic Acid in the form of Sodium Hyaluronate Low Molecular Weight (LMW). Nourishing Castor Oil is incorporated to act as an occlusive ingredient, which helps trap all that wonderful moisture in to deeply soothe dry hands and ease discomfort. The Zinc Oxide in this recipe is used to help calm irritated skin rather than for its sun care properties. White Willow Bark Extract, an excellent choice for soothing sensitive skin, boosts the healing qualities of this soft pampering lotion.
This recipe will make 100 g (3.5 oz) of hand lotion.
47.5 g / 1.68 oz
1% Sodium Hyaluronate Solution
20 g / 0.71 oz
18 g / 0.63 oz
8 g / 0.28 oz
5 g / 0.18 oz
White Willow Bark Extract
0.5 g / 0.02 oz
0.5 g / 0.02 oz
Essential Oil or Fragrance
0.5 g / 0.02 oz
Instructions: To incorporate Sodium Hyaluronate into the formulation without clumping, make a 1% Sodium Hyaluronate Solution first. Add 0.2 g of Sodium Hyaluronate Raw Material to 19.8 g of Distilled Water, cover, and monitor until the white powder almost disappears. Mix well.
Next, combine the Castor Oil with the Emulsifying Wax in a heat-resistant container. In another heat-resistant container, pour in the distilled water and 1% Sodium Hyaluronate solution and stir. Heat both containers (you may use a double boiler or water bath) until the waxes and oils have thoroughly melted, and the water phase reaches its boiling point. Heat for about 20 minutes. Now add the Zinc Oxide powder into your oil phase and mix well with a whisk or spatula.
Finally, pour the water phase carefully into the oil phase, and blend well. Keep blending or stirring until the formulation has cooled. Once cooled down, add in the White Willow Bark Extract, Preservative, and your preferred Essential Oils. Mix well.
SAFETY PRECAUTIONS & CONTRAINDICATIONS
When creating DIY products, it is imperative to prevent the transmission of infection. This can be done by ensuring proper hand washing. It is important to use sterile gloves and a hair net to provide the necessary protection.
Sterilize everything with which the lotion or cream will come into contact; have a spray bottle of alcohol ready with clean sterile jars and towels at hand.
Pay close attention when heating any mixtures that include oil, as the oil can rapidly overheat. This is especially true for small amounts of oil, which can overheat in seconds. Never leave oil unattended on the stove. If called away from the stove, be sure to remove the pan from the heat.
Avoid overheating the oils. The wax and oil mixtures simply need to be melted, not boiled.
Keep young children and pets out of the way.
After each use, clean all equipment in boiling water, rinse well, and dry. It is best to use these utensils only for making cosmetics and to avoid preparing or storing food in them due to the possibility of cross-contamination.
The mentioned ingredients and recipes are for external use only. It is imperative to consult a medical practitioner before using these ingredients or recipes for therapeutic purposes. Pregnant and nursing women are especially advised not to use them without the medical advice of a physician.
Those with the following health conditions are recommended to be advised by a physician: cancer, skin disorders, bleeding disorders, hormone-related ailments, and conditions of the heart, liver, or kidney. Individuals that are taking prescription drugs, undergoing major surgery, or who are at a greater risk of experiencing strokes, heart attacks, or atherosclerosis are also advised to seek medical consultation prior to use.
Prior to using any cosmetic ingredient or recipe, a skin patch test is always advised to determine any sensitivities or adverse reactions. These products must never be used near the inner nose and ears or on any other particularly sensitive areas of skin. In the event of an allergic reaction, discontinue use of and see a doctor, pharmacist, or allergist immediately for a health assessment and appropriate remedial action. To prevent side effects, consult with a medical professional prior to use.