Too Much Hand-Washing? Here Are the Best Moisturizers.

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RUB-A-DUB DRY While diligent handwashing is unavoidable right now, it can age your hands.

Illustration: Yana Potter

RIGOROUS AND repeated hand-washing, sequential squirts of hand sanitizer, latex gloves in public. Covid-19 has certainly focused our attention on the benefits of clean paws, but our hands are desperate for deeper care. “In a perfect world, you would treat hands the same way you treat your face, or even better,” said Seattle-based dermatologist Dr. Heather D. Rogers. “The skin on the back of your hands is thin and has fewer oil glands than facial skin.” Hands also endure more wear and tear than your face, are more prone to injury and are rarely protected from the elements.

Excessive hand-washing and slathering on of moisture-stripping hand sanitizer leaves this vulnerable stretch of skin perceptively rough, dry, and irritated—and at a significantly higher risk of rapid aging. As any dermatologist will attest, besides your neck, your hands reveal your age most indiscreetly.

‘In a perfect world you would treat hands the same way you treat your face, or even better.’

With regular hand disinfecting now a nonnegotiable beauty task, what recourse do we have? New York-based dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman recommended some best practices. First, consider the soap you’re using for all those 20-second scrub sessions. Look for disinfecting soaps that incorporate oils, like those from Mrs. Meyer’s. “Oils are very effective at lifting dirt and grime without drying out the skin,” she explained. Katy Peetz, a recipe developer and founder of plant-based snack brand Keetz, whose job has always required repeated hand-washing, echoes that advice: “All it takes is one day using more conventional soaps to ruin your hands.” She also favors cleansers from Mrs. Meyer’s or Puracy.

A two-pronged approach to moisturizing severely dry skin might be best, suggested Dr. Engelman. First, apply an oil. Her pick is Josie Maran’s 100% Pure Argan Oil Light, which is high in vitamin E and fatty acids. The oil helps repair skin damage, improves elasticity and works to reverse signs of aging. Then follow with a cream to create a barrier and lock in moisture. “Since the molecules in moisturizers are larger, they don’t penetrate as deeply [as an oil], but rather provide a shield,” she explained. New York-based food stylist Maggie Ruggiero has long employed a similar layering method on set to address her perpetually over-washed hands and nails. “I’ve been using Dr. Hauschka’s Neem Oil on my nails and cuticles forever,” she said. “Then I moisturize my hands—but never when they’re damp—with Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve, or, when I’m feeling fancy, Aesop Resurrection Balm.”

With moisturizers, the denser, the better. “Since your hand skin has fewer oil glands, thicker moisturizers are best,” Dr. Rogers said. One expert tip: Scan the shelves for key ingredients like ceramides and shea butter. Dr. Engelman endorses the former: “They help restore the skin’s barrier by holding the cells together and, as a result, skin feels smoother, plumper and more moisturized.” According to Jin Soon Choi, a manicurist and founder of an eponymous nail polish and care line, shea butter in particular “hydrates while protecting your skin’s natural oils.” Kacey Martinez, a Boise-based pediatric nurse for whom frequent hand-washing was a duty even pre-Covid-19, always keeps a tube of ceramide-packed moisturizer tucked in her work bag, specifically Cerave Therapeutic Hand Cream.

If the skin on your hands has, quite literally, reached a breaking point, Dr. Rogers recommends upping the moisturizing ante by slathering on a thick coat of ointment (you can try Aquaphor, or the Healing Balm from her eponymous brand) and slipping hands into a pair of cotton gloves or socks for the night. “It will help skin heal and replenish the oils so your hands can face yet another day of frequent hand-washing.”

SOFT SELL / THREE DENSE, ELEGANT, RESTORATIVE HAND CREAMS WORTH INDULGING IN

From left: Aesop Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm, L’Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream, Oribe Côte d’Azur Nourishing Hand Crème.

The Cult Favorite

With its millennial-pink tube and mandarin-rind extract, this is a trendy staple among creative types. Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm, $30, aesop.com

The Dependable Classic

One of these rich, sweet-smelling potions is sold every two seconds around the world. Shea Butter Hand Cream, $29, loccitane.com

The Luxe Newcomer

This recently launched product can also be used as an overnight hand mask. Côte d’Azur Nourishing Hand Crème, $52, oribe.com

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