Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why do my knuckles and fingertips get dry and cracked during winter?"
I am a 38 year old woman, and have been having this dryness problem since I was a teenager. My hands are fine and not overly dry during most other months. When winter comes around, it seems like no matter how much lotion I use, my hands will become very dry; especially my fingers and the knuckle area. I use lotion frequently, but it tends to wear off. My fingertips become very dry, and if you look at them you can see how dry they are. Eventually, there will be a crack that forms in one of the dry areas. It is very painful, especially if it is on one of my knuckles. I'm not sure what I can do to prevent this. Nothing I have tried has worked so far. Is there a lotion I should be using or some kind of treatment that will prevent my hands from doing this during the winter?
Dry skin on the hand during the winter is a very common problem, especially in those who have a genetic tendency to have sensitive skin. The cold air and lack of humidity have an effect on the skin's natural layer of protective oils, which leads to drying out, itching, and cracking. The first step in treating this problem is to eliminate anything you are doing that further strips off the skin's protective oils. Exposure to water is number one here. You should wear plastic gloves whenever washing dishes. You should also avoid washing your hands excessively, and you should always pat them dry, never rub them. You should also limit bathing and showering, typically to no more than once a day and never with very hot water. Follow this up with very frequent (6 or more times per day) application of a skin moisturizer. The best moisturizers are 'ointments' - those that have a texture like vaseline - because they stay on longer and are better at trapping in the skin's moisture. If you have any areas of eczema (red, itchy, flaky areas) then you can also apply an over the counter steroid cream to these areas. If none of these strategies work, then you should seek the advice of your dermatologist.