Dermatitis Chapped Hands

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Chapped hands are a result of very dryskin. Dry skin occurs when the moisture, or water, content of theskin is decreased for any reason.

What is going on in the body?

The surface of the skin holds a certain amount of water. When the water contentdecreases, the skin becomes dry, itchy, and uncomfortable. Some people have verysensitive skin that is easily irritated. Since a person’s hands are oftenexposed to elements such as cold and moisture, hands may become irritated beforeother parts of the body do.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to dry skin. Aspeople age, their skintends to become drier. Dry air, resulting from winter’s low humidity and the useof indoor heat, can cause skin to dry out. Long, hot baths and showers can alsomake skin dry.

Factors that increase a person’s risk of chapped hands include the following:

  • frequent handwashing, which may be associated with the person’s job
  • prolonged exposure to cold, dry weather
  • sunburn or windburn
  • allergic reactions to skin care products
  • history of a skin disorder, such as eczema
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

    Hands that are chapped usually have the following characteristics:

  • roughness
  • dryness
  • redness
  • peeling
  • cracking
  • sensitivity
  • tenderness
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    An individual can generally diagnose his or her own chapped hands. If thecondition persists or worsens, a healthcare provider may be consulted to ruleout more serious skin disorders.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    People subject to chapped hands should limit the amount of soap they use andthe length of time their hands are exposed to the water. Some people may be ableto use mild, moisturizing soap on their hands. A few need to limit soap use tothe underarms and genitalia.

    After patting the hands dry with a towel, the individual should apply amoisturizer. Two types of moisturizers are available over-the-counter:

  • cosmetic moisturizers, which provide immediate relief of dry skin but lastonly while they are applied to the skin. For people with mild or intermittentchapped hands, a cosmetic moisturizer may be enough to keep the skin fromfeeling dry.
  • therapeutic moisturizers, which have demonstrated the ability to act as abarrier that keeps water from evaporating from the skin. Many therapeuticmoisturizers contain mineral oil or petroleum.
  • The healthcare provider may also prescribe creams containing alpha hydroxyacids or urea to get rid of dead skin and minimize itching.

    Following are other measures to help prevent chapped hands:

  • wearing protective gloves whenever possible
  • avoiding prolonged exposure to water, such as swimming
  • avoiding exposure to chemicals that irritate the skin
  • What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    If chapped hands are left untreated, the person may have the following problems:

  • difficulty doing things without wearing protective gloves
  • recurrent skin conditions such as outbreaks of eczema or skin inflammation
  • infections, which may occur when bacteria enter cracks in the skin
  • What are the risks to others?

    Chapped hands are not contagious and pose no risk toothers.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    The sameguidelines for bathing and using moisturizers that are used to prevent chapped hands also can be used to treat chapped hands.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    There are no side effects to treatment, unless an individual isallergic to moisturizers. Those individuals should choose unscented orhypoallergenic moisturizers.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    Moisturizer should be applied to the skin on a regular basis asneeded. This will help prevent symptoms from returning

    How is the condition monitored?

    Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcareprovider.

    Article type: xmedgeneral