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Cool Weather, Dry Air are Rough on Hands

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mar4homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, March 4, 2008-(MCT)-Until at least the spring thaw, most of us have to deal with the winter’s chill and the damage it can do to our skin. Particularly on our hands.

You can count on the left-or the right-the reasons why our hands take a beating at this time of year:

- First, the no-brainer–it’s the season. Meaning, lots of biting wind, less humidity.
- We’re continually washing our hands or using sanitizers to tackle germs and avoid colds.
- We don’t wear enough protective gear, such as gloves.
- Plus, for those who make it their living to be in and out of hot water–doctors, salon workers, even fun-loving bartenders–chapped, irritated skin is the winter norm.

What to do?

Of course, you break out a product that forms a moisturizing barrier on your skin. Lotions come in a variety of formulations and prices.

Here are some other tips to help keep hands healthy and worth holding:

Fight the Faucet

Come winter, Dr. Suzanne Kilmer gets tiny cracks in her hands that seem to worsen when she’s at high altitudes, “like at Lake Tahoe,” she says.

But Kilmer, director of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of Northern California, adds that “the constant hand washing as a doctor, that’s where my hands take the brunt of it.”

Kilmer’s colleague, Dr. Vera Chotzen, agrees, saying that nonstop wetting and drying–as well as the use of soaps or hand gels–strip skin of its natural oils.

“It only takes a minute, once your hands come out of the water, for them to become dehydrated,” Chotzen says.

And, while we’re mainly focusing on hands here, keep in mind that — while it might feel really good — an overly hot bath or shower is not good for the skin anywhere on your body.

So, keep it short. And after a 10- or 15-minute soaking, slather on the cream, because your skin will be receptive to the moisturizer. Wait too long, and pores close without any hydration.

Kilmer says prolonged exposure to certain irritants can lead to a condition known as contact dermatitis, which is especially painful on the hands.

“You can get breaks in the skin, even bleeding,” she says. The condition could require medical attention and certainly merits finding the cause of the problem.

Which may not always be evident.

“One thing I tell patients is to avoid handling fabric softener dryer sheets,” Kilmer says. “The fibers in the sheets have soap and perfume, which can be transferred to your hands. The fibers can even stick in your dryer for up to 20 loads of laundry.”

Keep the Protective Supplies, er, on Hand

Call it an occupational hazard.

“We’re constantly wet!” says Christina King, who usually works nights behind the bar at the Riverside Clubhouse off Broadway.

Her daytime counterpart, Danny Royster, adds that hand washing is simply part of the job, often done more than 20 times during a six-hour shift.

Also part of the job: cutting up citrus fruit to go in drinks. That “really dries the hands,” Royster says. Plus, “there are olives and onions and sweet, sticky things like cherries.”

There’s also the liquor and ice that come in contact with skin.

And the shaking of hands with customers, bartenders being the congenial types that they are. Not to mention the hand washing and the “hit of hand sanitizer,” Royster says, that come with serving food and handling cash and credit cards.

What works best for him, Royster says: an aloe vera-based lotion or cream. That, and “using gloves.”

We go to stylists and manicurists to look good. But think about how many times these professionals’ hands are in the sink or exposed to chemicals.

Maria Hernandez, 28, is an assistant stylist at Mosaic Salon & Spa in midtown Sacramento. She works about 40 hours a week, “mostly in water,” she says. “I’m (also) applying (hair) toners, rinsing out bleach.”

And, get this, another 20 hours of Hernandez’s times–she’s off on Sundays–is spent tending bar at Tapa the World, right down the street from the salon.

So, like the bartenders at the Riverside Clubhouse, Hernandez cuts up fruit, squeezes a lot of limes and handles bleach in the dishwasher.

“Again, water all the time,” she says.

Her secret? Neutrogena Norwegian Formula.

“What I like is that, even after you wash your hands, it feels like the cream is still there,” she says. “My hands itch and hurt sometimes, but this works. It’s thick but not too greasy.”

(Neutrogena was originally developed in Norway for Arctic fishermen.)

Still, not everyone is up against extreme conditions. But most everyone probably prefers attractive-looking hands.

For them, the manicurists at Melody Salon on S Street recommend a good cuticle oil or salve to prevent little skin tears. Healthy nails make for healthier hands.

And Chotzen suggests keeping a bottle of hand lotion or cream wherever you wash your hands. Put mini versions in your handbag, messenger bag, gym bag or desk drawer, too.

She adds that finding a hand lotion with a sunscreen (25 or 30 SPF) is a bonus.

“Use it every day, especially on the backs of your hands, because a sunscreen sometimes lightens liver (or age) spots,” Chotzen says.

During cooler weather, low humidity occurs–inside, with heaters, and outside.

Maintaining proper humidity–that is, the level of moisture in the air–in your home is another way to protect your skin.

Invest in a small humidistat or hygrometer, which can test the relative humidity of a room. If it shows that it’s below 20%, consider purchasing a humidifier. In your home, humidity levels should be between 30% to 50%, with the ideal level being 45%, according to the website www.doityourself.com.

In the end, though, if you’re still wringing your dry hands, try applying a liberal dose of Udderly Smooth udder cream and sleep in cotton gloves.

After all, if it works on cows …

© 2008, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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