TLC for Chapped Hands

It’s winter and many people are feeling it in their hands—their chapped, raw, bleeding hands. And they are not happy! There are several things you can do, in addition to moisturizing your hands, to end or at least lessen the misery and feel like you can handle winter (yes, pun intended).

To fully address the problem of your chapped skin, you need to be aware of all the things that touch your skin. Cold air, of course, is the first thing you think of. Wear your gloves or mittens outdoors!

But the other things that touch your skin and affect it are the soap you use for hand washing and body cleansing, shampoos, house cleaning products, and the actual moisturizers you use for your hands and skin.

Here are some suggestions for what to use to prevent chapped irritated hands:

Use Real Soap, Not Commercial Soaps

handmade soap bars

Commercial soaps often are at least partially made with detergents, which are very harsh to the skin. Additionally, they have many additives for color, scent, foaminess, and so on, that can cause irritation and/or allergic reactions.

What to do: Use handmade or real soap. This is soap that has been made by the traditional method of mixing a fatty acid, such as olive oil with a strong alkali (water soluble alkaline chemical) such as lye. The resulting chemical process, called saponification, actually completely changes the ingredients into what we know as soap. A wonderful by-product of the saponification process is glycerin, a substance that is humectant, in other words, it helps to moisturize in the skin.

Commercial soaps have the glycerin taken out, because the manufacturers can make more money using it elsewhere.

The best soaps to use are ones that are handmade, and there are many people out there making soaps the by the old methods. You can find these soaps in health-food stores, at farmer’s markets, on Etsy, and many places on-line. Do avoid soaps with fragrance oils and/or synthetic colors.

I use only handmade soaps or Dr. Bronner’s for all hand-washing and all-over body cleaning and I have found that I have much less dry, chapped skin, and that it doesn’t affect my break-out rate (I have adult acne).

You can also use soaps by a few companies that make good soaps, such as Dr. Bronner’s and Vermont Soap Company.

Use Natural Shampoos

As with commercial soaps, most commercial shampoos are actually detergents. Remember that the shampoo you use will affect your hands because you are using your hands to apply the shampoo.

What to do: Use shampoos without harsh chemicals though it can take some searching to find shampoos that don’t have them.

You can find bar shampoos, like a similar to a bar of soap, which can work well. Some soap companies, like Vermont Soap Company, also make shampoos.

One larger company that has shampoos that are free of chemicals is Aubrey’s.

Use Natural Dishwashing Liquids or Rubber Gloves

Commercial dishwashing liquids, even ones that are supposed to be gentle, are really just detergents mixed with harsh chemicals, and can cause very dry skin as well as irritations and allergies.

What to do: Look for more “natural” brands, such as Seventh Generation and Ecover, as they have fewer chemicals and are easier on your skin (as well as the earth). Do read the ingredient list to find out what is in the liquid. These natural brands are more expensive than conventional ones, but worth it in terms of comfort. Not all of these brands perform equally well for cleaning your dishes, so you may have to try a couple to find one you like.

If these measures don’t work, then use rubber gloves to protect your hands.

Simplify Your Housecleaning Routine

To clean your home you really don’t need an arsenal of cleaning products. Baking soda, white vinegar, and dish detergent will cover most of your day-to-day cleaning and disinfecting needs.

Using these simple ingredients cuts down on exposure to harsh, drying, irritating chemicals as well as toxins in your home. If you find your hands get affected by these products, then use rubber gloves for protection.

Use a Moisturizer Free of Synthetic Chemicals

healing herbal salves

Soothing, healing herbal salves.

Most moisturizers, lotions, etc.—even the ones that say “natural” or “organic”—have some synthetic ingredients (preservatives, emulsifiers, colors, scents, and so on). Any or all of these ingredients can cause problems by producing irritations or allergies. And be aware that even naturally-occurring ingredients can cause problems if you have a sensitivity or allergy to them.

What to do: Find products with the fewest synthetic ingredients, or better yet, none! Or make your own.

It takes reading labels carefully and then researching the ingredients you don’t know to really figure out what to avoid. The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep data base ( is a comprehensive site that in provides information on chemicals in cosmetics and also rates skincare products.

A few general things to watch out for are any sort of alcohols (drying), petroleum jelly or petrolatum or mineral oil (pulls moisture out of the skin), phthalates and fragrance, and parapbens. A complete list is too long to go into here, unfortunately.

You can find skin creams and lotions made in small quantities with healthy ingredients at health food stores, on-line including e-bay and Etsy, at farmer’s markets, and from local folks and herbalists making lotions and creams that are good for your skin without harsh ingredients.

Use a good-quality moisturizer on your hands as often as you need, and follow the other suggestions given. You will soon find yourself with hands that are soft and comfortable and leave you welcoming any kind of weather!