Hand care is perhaps the most predictable beauty trend of 2021. All this extra washing and sanitising are drying out two body parts that are already highly prone to dryness like never before. And it’s not just one pair that needs taking care of, there are two sides of each hand to consider.
Hands are tools and the skin on the palms — which has evolved to enhance grip and tolerate lots of action — is very different from that on the backs of your hands. Your palms and the balls of your fingers and thumbs have a thick and robust surface layer. Their skin is comfortably padded in fatty and connective tissue that is insensitive to pressure.
The backs of the hands can be strong indicators of the skin’s age and condition. These areas are vulnerable to sunspots, wrinkles and loss of elasticity. They have less collagen and fat than other areas of the body and often become bony. The professional treatments recommended for their rejuvenation, e.g. chemical peels, cryotherapy, lasering and microdermabrasion, are also popular options for the face and neck, which suggests we should be treating them just as carefully.
Developing a skincare regimen for the backs of your hands might seem excessive, especially if finding time for your face and neck is already difficult. I often apply my serum, exfoliant and SPF to the backs of my hands after putting them on my face and neck. This way they get the retinol, Vitamin C and other potent antioxidants that don’t usually show up in hand creams. Broad-spectrum sun protection needs to be reapplied after every wash if you plan on heading outside. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing gloves while driving (UVA rays can penetrate glass) or gardening.
Margaret Dabbs Intensive Anti Ageing Hand Serum €38.36 at arnotts.ie, is an overnight treatment formulated to tackle signs of UV damage. Soy isoflavones target sunspots and other pigmentation issues. Lupin seed helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles. White water lily promotes radiance and comfrey soothes the skin.
German skincare brand Dr Barbara Sturm, which landed at brownthomas.ie last week, does a hand cream that sounds made for the face. Dr Barbara Sturm Super Anti-Ageing Hand Cream, €55, strengthens skin’s moisture barrier with hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
Antioxidants purslane and Vitamin E help to protect the skin from free radicals, daisy flower lightens sun spots and prickly pear extract calms irritation. Mangosteen and quince extracts plump the appearance of fine lines and smoothes the skin.
Most creams prevent little more than moisture loss, which does often feels like the most urgent of hand care needs. There are a couple of reasons that both sides of your hands have trouble retaining moisture. Their hairless surfaces mean they have fewer sebaceous glands than elsewhere on the body. Nobody wants hairy hands but sebaceous glands develop around hair follicles and provide the skin with lipids and some of its moisture-binding components.
The difference between the skin on the palms and that on the backs of the hands also means that the overall formation of the hand’s hydrolipid film (the emulsion of fats and water that covers the skin’s surface) is compromised.
The skin on the hands is also bad at sustaining what little lipidic and moisture-binding powers it does have. The pH of the hands is less acidic than on many other parts of the body, so its protective acid mantle — the natural acidity that shields skin — is weaker.
Always protect your hands from exposure to detergents and other household cleaners. Wear kitchen gloves as often as is practical. You should also apply moisturiser immediately after washing hands or sanitising. The moisture-stripping properties of soaps and sanitisers can be countered by applying a fragrance-free cream immediately after use.
Eau Thermale Avène Cicalfate Hands Repairing Barrier Cream, €9.50 at avene.ie, is antibacterial and proven to keep skin protected through five washes (brand tests showed it remains waterproof as long as you let it dry for 3-4 minutes), so should reduce your need to reapply.
You could also swap your liquid or bar for an emollient body wash such as Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturising Body Wash, €9.10 at boots.ie.
If you have trouble remembering to keep moisturising, you could stash moisturisers by your sinks or pocket a travel size. Embryolisse Nourishing Hand Cream, €12.95 at lookfantastic.ie, is a favourite of mine because it is very buttery, absorbs quickly and contains a lot of squalane, which acts much like skin's own sebum to prevent moisture loss.