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My hands get dry and crack in the winter. Any advice?

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The question

My hands become incredibly dry in the winter - to the point where they crack and bleed. I've tried numerous lotions but nothing helps. Any advice?

The answer

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Dry hands are a common symptom and often worsen in the winter months due to the decrease in environmental humidity and temperature. Another trigger in the winter is central heating, which reduces humidity and can worsen already dry skin.

It sounds like you've already tried many lotions but haven't had any relief of your symptoms. The first thing I would suggest is to first try to identify and avoid the triggers that can worsen dry hands.

Specifically, scented soaps or antibacterial cleansers can be harsh and strip the skin of their natural protective barrier. Avoid immersing your hands in water for long periods of time such as with washing dishes and if needed, use gloves as protection. Increase humidity and both inside and out by drinking enough water and consider the use of a humidifier at home to increase moisture to the air.

In addition to avoiding triggers, it is important to properly moisturize your skin. There are an abundance of creams available that promise to heal dry skin but it's important to find the right fit for your skin type.

Avoid expensive scented creams and look for simple, thick moisturizers (I recommend Cetaphil, Eucerin or Uremol.)

Apply moisturizers right after bathing to seal in the water and at night. You could try applying a thick layer of cream and putting gloves or socks on your hands to help seal in the moisture as you sleep.

If you have tried these changes and you are still suffering from dry hands, visit your doctor to be evaluated for any other potential underlying causes. Medical conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and thyroid disorder can all cause dry skin changes. Another condition your doctor may consider, especially given the severity of your symptoms is atopic dermatitis. This is a common condition and can be increased in those who also suffer from hay fever or asthma.

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For this, your doctor may consider prescribing a mild prescription cortisone cream in addition to moisturizing to manage your symptoms.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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