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Our skin is our largest organ. It plays the crucial role of keeping foreign objects out of the body. As such, supple and soft skin doesn’t just look beautiful, it is important for maintaining good health. For, even tiny cracks and cuts in our skin can become entry points for disease-causing germs, dirt, allergens and more.

While a large part of our skin is covered in clothes and therefore protected, our hands and feet are usually exposed to weather conditions (cold and hot), water and germs. Even good old hard work can cause wear and tear in the skin on our hands—basic things like washing utensils, chopping vegetables, writing an exam on a cold winter’s day and walking in open sandals can pile up.

All this can make our hands and feet dry. The result: rough texture, itchiness, peeling cuticles and possibly some pain and discomfort. These are all signs that your hands and feet are in need of some tender loving care (TLC).

Contrary to popular belief, taking care of dry hands and feet is really not that difficult—what it boils down to building is a routine that you can actually follow. So, read on for some actionable tips on much-needed TLC for dry hands and feet.

  1. Creams with 10% urea remedy dry hands and feet
  2. Ghee is a remedy for dry hands
  3. Virgin coconut oil is a natural remedy for dry hands and feet
  4. Cold-pressed plant oils for dry hands and feet
  5. Glycerin and rose water is home remedy for dry hands and feet
  6. Aloe vera and honey hand mask for dry hands
  7. Moisturizer and petroleum jelly for dry feet
  8. Takeaways
  9. Doctors for Home remedies for dry hands and feet

Washing hands with soap and water is easily one of the best ways to avoid infectious disease from Staph (a bacterial infection) to COVID-19 (a viral infection). Unfortunately, washing hands also strips them of their natural oils and moisture. This can leave the skin dry and stretchy. And dry and stretchy skin is more prone to fissures and cuts and therefore less capable to act as a barrier against foreign objects (including germs).

Similarly, washing your feet whenever you return from the market or the office is important to remove grime and sweat. But this can also strip them of moisture. (If your job requires you to walk a lot, then chances are that you also develop calluses or shoe bites.)

The fix for this is simple, but you will need to be very regular with it. It involves investing a little bit in a cream with urea (also known as carbamide) in it—usually, 10% urea is more than enough, but if you have a skin condition like psoriasis, talk to your doctor about potentially using a cream with 20% or more urea content.

Urea in low doses is a known humectant: it absorbs moisture from the surroundings. In higher doses, urea helps in the management of skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema (atopic dermatitis). A known keratolytic (it softens the keratin protein in the skin), urea-based creams can also help to treat foot corns, cracked heels and calluses.

What you will need:

  • 10% urea-based cream or lotion

What to do:

  • Each time you wash your hands or feet, gently pat them with a towel or let them air-dry a little bit.
  • Take a tiny amount of the cream or lotion in your palm (a few drops or just enough to cover your hands/feet properly).
  • Gently but thoroughly massage it in, making sure to cover any calluses and your knuckles and nails as well.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all gotten used to washing our hands several times a day. This is a habit we should continue even after the pandemic is over—hand hygiene can help to prevent some of the most common infections. Applying just a little bit of cream afterwards can also soothe any dryness you may experience after frequent handwashing.

For many of us who prepare meals for ourselves and our families, applying moisturisers that have chemicals in them is not always an option. Ghee (clarified butter to some), which is organic and perfectly edible, is a great substitute. Ghee is easily absorbed in the skin, to hydrate the cells.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • ½ teaspoon ghee
  • Paper towels (optional)

Method:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water and pat them with a towel until they are almost (but not completely) dry.
  • Now, place the ghee on one palm and gently rub both palms together.
  • Intertwine the fingers and get the ghee in-between them.
  • Hold the thumb of your left hand with your right hand and gently move the thumb left to right. Repeat on the other hand. 
  • Rub each nail with your thumbs in a circular motion to cover the cuticles.
  • Once the ghee is properly absorbed into your skin, you’re good to go.
  • You can apply ghee on your hands during the day or night. If you’re worried about getting your clothes or books dirty, wipe off any excess ghee with a paper towel.

Research shows that in addition to being an emollient (something that softens the skin), virgin coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful for people with atopic dermatitis. It also helps in faster healing of wounds, cuts and burns. (Read more: First-aid for burns)

Coconut oil is made up of mostly triglycerides, medium-chain fatty acids, phenolic acid and polyphenols that moisture the skin naturally, and have antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

The lauric acid in coconut oil also helps to heal tiny fissures (lines) that appear in the skin as it loses moisture—this, in turn, improves the skin barrier function.

What you will need:

  • 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
  • A pair of comfortable gloves or old but clean sock

How to do it:

  • Just before going to bed, wash the affected area with soap and water and let it air-dry a bit.
  • If treating dry hands, apply the oil to your palms, in-between your fingers and on the nails. Apply it little by little, till the oil is largely absorbed. For dry feet, make sure to cover the top of the feet, in-between the toes and the soles. 
  • Put on the gloves/old socks on your hands/feet.
  • Leave the oil on through the night.

In very dry weather, the body releases water to the outermost layers of skin to keep it supple. In a healthy individual, the skin loses 100-150 ml of this water per square metre (human skin covers about two square metres on average) through evaporation. This water loss is known as transepidermal or insensible water loss (it’s called insensible because we are not even aware when this happens). This water loss can be higher in people with skin conditions like eczema.

Oils such as almond oil, jojoba oil, soybean oil, and avocado oil have an occlusive effect; that is, they form a layer on the skin which prevents this water loss. Research shows that cold-pressed oils have better therapeutic effects than refined oils, because they haven’t been exposed to heat or chemicals.

Research also suggests that putting a plant oil on the skin (topical application) may improve the chances of other important phytochemicals (plant chemical) like phenolic compounds and tocopherols to get through (chemical permeability) and repair skin damage.

Not all plant oils are the same, though: some need to be applied on a regular basis for the best results, while others should be used more consciously. For example, avocado oil is rich in omega 9 fatty acid (oleic acid), so applying it sometimes can produce great results. However, research has linked regular and long-term application of avocado oil to dermatitis (skin inflammation) in some people.

So it is important to pick the right oil for you before you use it on your hands—and build a timetable accordingly. You could apply a small amount on the inside of your elbow to see which one suits you best. If avocado oil is the best option for you, then apply it once or twice a week, depending on weather conditions and other factors that may make your hands dry.

For other plant oils, since they don’t get fully absorbed in the skin, it might be a good idea to include them in your daily night-time personal care routine.

Here’s what you’ll need

  • 1 teaspoon jojoba oil or almond oil or olive oil (one of the three)

How to do it:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Pat them dry.
  • Apply the oil to your palms and gently massage into your hands.
  • If possible, take 2-3 minutes to really work the oil into your hands, applying pressure on each finger and the abductor pollicis brevis muscle (part of the palm that links to the thumb) to relieve stress.
  • You can also add two drops of lavender oil to the oil of your choice before massaging, to help you sleep better.

Glycerin is a known humectant: it moisturizes the skin and then locks the moisture inside. You need to be careful to dilute the glycerin (also known as glycerol) with rose water or water first, though, so it doesn’t end up pulling water out of the deeper layers of your skin to moisturise the outermost layers.

Glycerin protects the skin against irritants. Indeed, research shows that it also heals skin that has been damaged by exposure to sodium lauryl sulphate (found in many shampoos and body washes)—it does this by increasing the skin’s capacity to hold moisture (hygroscopic properties). More water means better hydration and more supple skin.

What you will need:

  • 1 teaspoon glycerin
  • 1 teaspoon rose water
  • A mixing bowl

How to do it:

  • Wash your hands/feet with soap and water. Pat them dry.
  • Mix the glycerin and rose water and apply it liberally on your hands/feet.
  • Gently massage the back of your hands/feet with your fingertips.
  • Get the glycerin-rose water mixture into the cuticles as well.
  • Massage for at least three minutes. Then wash your hands/feet with cold water.

Aloe vera hydrates the skins. That is why it is recommended that you add one-third part aloe vera gel to isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to make hand sanitizer at home. And honey helps to retain the moisture.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 teaspoon aloe vera gel
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Plastic gloves

How to do it:

  • Wash your hands and pat-dry them thoroughly.
  • Mix the aloe vera gel with honey and apply it on your hands liberally.
  • Put on the plastic gloves.
  • Leave it on for 5-10 minutes before washing it off with room-temperature water.

Walking barefoot or in sandals can make the heels dry. Over time, dry heels can develop cracks in the skin. And cracked heels can lead to heel pain in addition to disrupting the skin barrier function. There's a simple but slightly time-consuming remedy you can try once a week—it will take 15-30 minutes. You can also do this to prevent dry and cracked heels.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A small tub
  • Warm water (make sure it isn't hot, as hot water also strips natural oils from the body)
  • A gentle cleanser
  • A towel
  • A small amount of moisturizer (about the size of a two-rupee coin)
  • A small amount of petroleum jelly (about the size of a one-rupee coin)
  • A pair of clean socks

How to do it:

  • Soak your feet in a tub of warm water for about 10 minutes.
  • Use a gentle cleanser to clean the feet one by one.
  • Wipe the feet with a towel, making sure to wipe in-between the toes also.
  • Wet the feet a little bit with fresh water before rubbing moisturizer into them.
  • Apply petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on top of the moisturizer to lock the moisture in.
  • Put on a clean pair of socks.
  • Ideally, you should do this when you've retired for the day—either while watching TV or just before going to bed.

If your hands feel dry and rough from washing them several times in a day, you’re not alone. Washing hands properly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the best ways to avoid bacterial infections like Staph and viral infections like COVID-19.

Happily, there are quite a few things you can do to ease the dryness in your hands. Natural remedies like coconut oil, glycerin and rose water are readily available in most Indian homes. Some others, like 10% urea creams, are easily available at medical stores.

Hand hygiene is crucial for our health. We can’t slip up on that. What we can do to take better care of our hands is to pick a hand care routine that is easy and inexpensive—something we can do two or three times a day without feeling taxed or put out by it.

Dr. Abhishek Bunker

Dr. Abhishek Bunker

General Physician
2 Years of Experience

Dr. Vishwas Pahuja

Dr. Vishwas Pahuja

General Physician
1 Years of Experience

Dr. Nilofer Patel

Dr. Nilofer Patel

General Physician
3 Years of Experience

Dr. Prachi Jain

Dr. Prachi Jain

General Physician
2 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Nasrollahi S.A., Ayatollahi A., Yazdanparast T., Samadi A., Hosseini H., Shamsipour M., Akhlaghi A.A., Yadangi S., Abels C., and Firooz A. Comparison of linoleic acid-containing water-in-oil emulsion with urea-containing water-in-oil emulsion in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: a randomized clinical trial. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 5 January 2018; 11: 21–28. PMID: 29379309.
  2. Lodén M., Andersson A.C., Andersson C., Frödin T., Öman H. and Lindberg, M. Instrumental and dermatologist evaluation of the effect of glycerine and urea on dry skin in atopic dermatitis. Skin Research and Technology, 2001; 7: 209-213.
  3. Treesirichod A., Chaithirayanon S., Chaikul T. and Chansakulporn S. The randomized trials of 10% urea cream and 0.025% tretinoin cream in the treatment of acanthosis nigricans. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 2020.
  4. Chew Y.L. The beneficial properties of virgin coconut oil in management of atopic dermatitis. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 2019;13:24-7.
  5. Atrux-Tallau N., Romagny C., Padois K., Denis A., Haftek M., Falson F., Pirot F. and Maibach H.I.. Effects of glycerol on human skin damaged by acute sodium lauryl sulphate treatment. Archives of Dermatological Research, 2010; 302: 435–441.
  6. Fluhr J.W., Darlenski R., Surber C. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. British Journal of Dermatology, 159 (1): 23-34. First published 27 May 2008.
  7. Visscher M., Davis J. and Wickett R. Effect of topical treatments on irritant hand dermatitis in health care workers. American Journal of Infection Control, December 2009; 37(10): 842.e1-842.e11.
  8. Kraft J.N. and Lynde C.W. Moisturizers: what they are and a practical approach to product selection. Skin Therapy Letter, June 2005; 10(5): 1-8.
  9. Lin T.K., Zhong L. and Santiago J.L. Anti-inflammatory and skin barrier repair effects of topical application of some plant oils. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 19(1): 70. PMID: 29280987.
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