So here’s a truth I learned recently that may shock you, too: The skin on our hands is even more delicate the skin on our face. I never really thought too much about that because I always thought skin’s skin, whether it’s on my face, hands, legs, feet, etc. But this new-to-me revelation made sense. My hands have always been a problem area for my eczema, and our hands do get a lot more wear and tear than our faces.
“The skin on your hands has less oil (sebaceous) glands than the face,” explains Robyn Gmyrek, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. “These glands make oil (or sebum), which is protective and prevents dryness. These glands also are important reservoirs of important cells, which help heal the skin—so fewer of these and the hand skin is less tolerant of injury and heals more slowly. And finally, the face has better blood circulation overall than the hands. The better the blood flow, the better the healing and the delivery of nutrients to the skin, which is vital.”
And that’s not all. The skin on our hands actually ages faster. A lot of it has to do with the reasons above, but Gmyrek adds that it’s also because hands are not protected by clothing or makeup daily like other parts of your body and face. “Even when sunscreen is applied, it is often washed off when the hands are cleansed and not reapplied. Sunlight exposure is responsible for estimates of 80% of skin aging,” she says.
While our hands are on the more delicate side, there are plenty of ways to protect them from additional damage. Gmyrek shared a few tips:
This one isn’t a surprise, but it’s still important—sunscreen should be the MVP in your beauty cabinet or makeup bag. “There are innumerable studies showing that ultraviolet light causes a premature breakdown of collagen and elastic tissue leading to crepey skin,” Gmyrek says. “We also have a plethora of scientific evidence that ultraviolet light causes DNA damage leading to skin cancers. The face, forearms, and tops of the hands are the places that I most commonly see non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.”
When choosing a sunscreen, she advises to look for SPF 30 or higher, and it should be labeled “broad-spectrum,” which means it protects against UVA and UVB light.
Your hands do a lot of work, and while you may not wear gloves all the time, it’s important to protect them when you’re doing certain tasks. Gmyrek recommends wearing them when you’re outside for an extended period of time (like gardening or golfing); when you’re cleaning or using any chemical products that can damage sensitive skin; and to prevent injury doing certain tasks, as hand skin takes longer to heal and is more apt to scar.
Hand hygiene is essential. “If you can opt for soaps or cleansers which are labeled ‘moisturizing’ or alcohol-free, do so,” Gmyrek says. “This goes for hand sanitizers as well. But don’t compromise hygiene! Immediately after washing, apply a moisturizer. Use a cream or an ointment over a lotion. Lotions are thinner and have more water or alcohol than creams or ointments.”
When choosing a hand cream, Gmyrek recommends looking for these two things:
Hydration and healing skin barrier: Hyaluronic acid, shea butter, argan oil, almond oil, ceramide, and colloidal oatmeal.
Removal of dry, dull dead skin cells: Salicylic acid creams or lactic acid creams such as AmLactin cream (lactic acid) or Gold Bond Psoriasis Relief cream (even if you don’t have psoriasis, it contains 3% salicylic acid).
And as you have a skincare routine for your face, it can also help to have one for your hands. “Apply an antioxidant serum or cream in the morning followed at least five minutes later by moisturizing sunscreen SPF 30 or more that is broad-spectrum,” Gmyrek says. “Throughout the day, reapply moisturizing sunscreen after washing and every two to four hours. At night, wash hands with a gentle cleanser and apply a retinol (vitamin A) containing cream at night. Wait 10 minutes and apply a moisturizing cream—if possible, one that is thicker than you might use in the day.”
Gmyrek also adds that you can use the same antioxidant you use on your face if it’s not too irritating, which you might need to test out first. She’s recommended SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic Acid or SkinBetter Alto Defense Serum to her patients. “Retinols I recommend for night are Topix Concentrated Retinol Serum or SkinBetter AlphaRet cream,” she says. “Start only three times per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and increase a day per week until you are at every night. If irritation occurs, discontinue and try a weaker retinol or a serum or cream with bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol alternative which also stimulates collagen and elastic tissue.”
If you are experiencing the signs of aging on your hands, Gmyrek outlined the common signs below and treatments for each:
Thin, Crepey, or Tissue Paper–like Skin: “This is due to collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid loss. Topical creams should be used. I recommend using a serum or cream with antioxidants like vitamin C to help stimulate new collagen and protect against ongoing damage in the morning. Then apply sunscreen as stated above. Reapply every two hours and after you wash. Wear even if you are indoors as UVA light comes right through window glass. In the evening, I recommend a vitamin A cream—retinol, retinoid, or bakuchiol, which will help to stimulate new collagen and thicken the skin. These should always be used at night as sunlight inactivates vitamin A products. This should be followed after waiting at least 10 minutes by a moisturizing cream.
“Lasers are very helpful, too. Fractionated resurfacing lasers are my go-to treatment in the office for stimulating new collagen and elastic tissue. These lasers create controlled, microscopic wounds in the skin. As the skin heals, it creates new collagen and elastic tissue. Multiple treatments are needed (five or so), and I only recommend going to a board-certified dermatologist who has been trained in the use of lasers.”
Brown Spots or Discoloration: “Topical creams containing hydroquinone or other bleaching agents such as tranexamic acid, kojic acid, or propionic acid can be helpful. Often these brown spots will not respond to topical treatments and require an in-office treatment to be removed.
“Lasers such as the intense pulsed light (IPL) or the Alexandrite laser are go-to treatments in the office. These lasers use specific wavelengths of light to target and remove the discolored spots on the hand. Usually two to five treatments are needed.”
Subcutaneous Fat Loss: “This is part of the natural aging process, and topical creams will not help this. Filler injections are my go-to in the office to create more fill in the hands. This improves the appearance of the hands by supporting the skin a bit and thereby making it appear tighter and also by hiding the veins of the hands a bit which become very prominent when fat is lost.”
Trying out a topical cream can be a good place to start if you’re looking for something to protect, preserve, or heal your skin. We’ve rounded up some of Gmyrek’s and our favorites below: