Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Chapped hands are a result of very dry skin. Dry skin occurs when the moisture, or water, content of the skin is decreased for any reason.
The surface of the skin holds a certain amount of water. When the water content decreases, the skin becomes dry, itchy, and uncomfortable. Some people have very sensitive skin that is easily irritated. Since a person’s hands are often exposed to elements such as cold and moisture, hands may become irritated before other parts of the body do.
Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to dry skin. As people age, their skin tends to become drier. Dry air, resulting from winter’s low humidity and the use of indoor heat, can cause skin to dry out. Long, hot baths and showers can also make skin dry.
Factors that increase a person’s risk of chapped hands include the following:
Hands that are chapped usually have the following characteristics:
An individual can generally diagnose his or her own chapped hands. If the condition persists or worsens, a healthcare provider may be consulted to rule out more serious skin disorders.
People subject to chapped hands should limit the amount of soap they use and the length of time their hands are exposed to the water. Some people may be able to use mild, moisturizing soap on their hands. A few need to limit soap use to the underarms and genitalia.
After patting the hands dry with a towel, the individual should apply a moisturizer. Two types of moisturizers are available over-the-counter:
The healthcare provider may also prescribe creams containing alpha hydroxy acids or urea to get rid of dead skin and minimize itching.
Following are other measures to help prevent chapped hands:
If chapped hands are left untreated, the person may have the following problems:
Chapped hands are not contagious and pose no risk to others.
The same guidelines for bathing and using moisturizers that are used to prevent chapped hands also can be used to treat chapped hands.
There are no side effects to treatment, unless an individual is allergic to moisturizers. Those individuals should choose unscented or hypoallergenic moisturizers.
Moisturizer should be applied to the skin on a regular basis as needed. This will help prevent symptoms from returning
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.