Many people suffer from dry and cracked skin, especially in the wintertime when the colder temperatures and the lack of humidity can sap the moisture out of your skin. This can mainly be a problem for many people living in northern latitudes where wintertime temperatures often fall below freezing. While dry skin is more or less just an annoyance, dehydrated skin can lead to painful cracks that can even bleed and may, in some cases, lead to infection. However, some very effective treatments for dry and cracked skin will help heal and even prevent skin from becoming damaged.
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and this is true for dry skin, especially for cracked skin. While it can occur anywhere on the body, the hands and the feet are the primary areas where the skin often experiences dryness and cracking. This is because the hands and feet receive the most stress, and the constant pressure of manipulating objects from door handles to tools and walking constantly stresses the skin. If the skin is dehydrated, constant flexing can result in cracking. The recommendation dermatologists make the most often to prevent dry skin and cracking is to wear gloves during cold weather whenever you go outside as the exposed hands begin to lose moisture in a matter of seconds. Also, always use a good moisturizing lotion to protect the skin from drying out. Finally, use a moisturizer with emollients, such as lanolin, mineral oil, petrolatum jelly and Shea butter, that will aid in trapping moisture in the skin and apply it immediately after washing.
Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are usually helpful. Over-the-counter preparations with a petroleum jelly base containing compounds like camphor and menthol will help with dehydrated skin and can prevent and heal cracks. For cracked skin, apply the ointment and cover the crack with a bandage until healed. Dry skin is sometimes a symptom of a more serious skin condition caused by a medical ailment such as dermatitis, psoriasis, hypothyroidism or eczema. Eczema, in particular, is a common skin disorder that causes dry skin and itchiness and may present with a rash or “skin eruptions.” All of these conditions may require more aggressive treatment. Prescription medications such as triamcinolone and betamethasone contain very mild topical steroids that can help with cracking. Strong topical creams, ointments, and oral medications are available for severe cases. Consult your healthcare provider to determine which of these treatment options may be right for you.
Skin masks are available for the hands and feet. Sometimes referred to as “peels,” a hand and a foot mask is a cloth infused with compounds designed to safely and gently exfoliate the top layers of dead skin without irritating the healthy skin underneath. The cloth covers your skin to keep the ingredients from drying out, allowing the compounds to penetrate deeper into the dermis to allow your skin to absorb the product fully. Unlike the harsh chemical peels dermatologists use, over-the-counter peels use gentle compounds such as citric acid and other botanical extracts. Foot and hand masks are configured like gloves and socks and designed to be worn for several hours, sometimes overnight. The skin will feel supple and much softer to the touch immediately following treatment, but the exfoliation process will take a few days to begin and last for a couple of weeks. During this time, you will notice spots of calloused skin painlessly peeling off and leaving you with softer, smoother and more supple skin.
There is no need to suffer from dry and cracked skin; these treatments will help you alleviate virtually all of the causes. Begin by trying the least aggressive options and work your way up. Always wear gloves when going outside in cold weather and use a good moisturizer immediately after washing. If none of the home treatment options brings relief, contact your healthcare provider to see what other options are available. Your doctor may recommend seeing a board-certified dermatologist for the most severe cases.