Cold, dry winter air is brutal on my hands. Untreated, I suffer with dry, cracked, and bleeding hands all winter. Treated, I have somewhat sticky and occasionally itchy hands. Neither scenario is good, but I’ll take sticky skin over the pain of cracked skin.
My dermatitis follows a very specific pattern. Untreated, my skin will cycle through this pattern for the entire winter.
- Day One: My hands become extremely itchy and begin to swell up. Hours later, a rash of hive-like bumps appear on my hands.
- Day Two: My skin becomes waxy and calloused, almost like a shell.
- Day Three: The skin cracks and flakes, sometimes falling off in small chunks. This phase is extremely painful. I use liquid bandage during this phase; it stings but works.
- Day Five: Once the cracks have healed and the hard skin is shed, my hands are covered in thin, powdery skin which then returns to normal within 24 hours.
The following is my treatment regime. I’m not sure if one or all of these treatments is the solution, but like a superstitious athlete, I do them all just in case. Consistency has proven to be a vital part of successful treatment for me. If I stray from this regime for even one day, I will have cracked fingertips within 48 hours. Eczema is merciless.
Use Gentle Soap
I made a full switch to gentle soap for my hands, body, and hair. I look for products that are scent-free and moisturizing that specifically state they are for sensitive, problem, and/or dry skin. I haven’t found one particular brand to be superior so I shop for the best value.
Apply Lotion Regularly
During the day I use light lotion that absorbs fairly quickly. I try to apply lotion at least once an hour, and always after I wash my hands. In the evening I use heavier lotion because I’m not using my hands as much. As with the soap, I buy scent-free products specifically designed for sensitive, problem, and/or dry skin. Also like the soap, I haven’t found a specific brand to be superior so once again, I shop for the best value.
Wear Gloves Whenever Possible
I use rubber gloves to wash dishes. I have a pair of rubber gloves I use for cleaning. I wear work gloves when I’m doing jobs around the house or in the yard. I wear gloves to drive, shovel snow, and when I’m just outside with my kids sledding or playing in the snowy backyard. I even wear gloves when I’m playing my guitar. It certainly isn’t fashionable, but I’d rather be unfashionable than suffer with painful cracks and bleeding fingers.
Wear Gloves To Bed Every Night
I have cotton gloves I wear to bed. Before I put them on, I slather my hands in heavy lotion. The gloves keep the lotion on my skin, reduces the amount of moisture lost to the air and sheets, and also protect the sheets from the heavy lotion. It took me a couple weeks to get used to sleeping with gloves. Every third night I take it to the next level and use blue nitrile gloves instead of cotton. It feels pretty disgusting until you get used to it. After a night of sleeping with the rubber gloves my hands look and feel amazing.