For those who struggle with perennially dry hands (self very much included), frequent scrubbing can wreak havoc on the poor, crack-prone skin. Lucky for all of us, though, this is a relatively easy fix: Simply upgrade your hand-washing ritual! To do so, many derms recommend using gentle, hydrating soaps; rinsing in lukewarm water; and investing in a high-quality hand cream to help restore your skin’s lipids.
As for when to rub in said hand cream? Well, you have a rather tight window—but you do have some leeway. Below, a derm explains exactly when to butter up those paws.
When to apply hand cream after washing.
Now, we’re certainly not going to knock proper hand hygiene—washing your hands regularly is a must. But let’s not forget that frequent washing can also strip your skin of important barrier lipids; and when your lipid barrier is continuously compromised, cracks and scaly, itchy skin tend to follow suit. That’s why restoring those lipids is crucial, which you can easily do with a nutrient-rich hand cream.
Derms generally recommend applying your cream ASAP, but according to board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., any time under two minutes can lock in the moisture—just don’t put it off any longer than that. “If you wait too long, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients in the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin,” she told us about caring for your skin microbiome. When that water evaporates (a concept known as transepidermal water loss), it’ll leave your skin even drier than it was before—especially if you rinse with hot water, which evaporates faster.
The solution? Keep your hand cream close by. “I carry a hand moisturizer with me at all times and apply it within moments of washing or sanitizing my hands throughout the day,” says Bowe. That’s not to say you must only use hand cream when your paws are damp—if you live in a dry environment, work with your hands, or if they’re just overall rough and parched at the moment, a quality hand cream can help fill in the cracks and keep the skin supple.
In terms of which ingredients are best to restore those lipids, experts recommend selecting a formula with nourishing oils and butters rich in fatty acids. “Use a moisturizer on your hands with real, traditional fats. These moisturizers can foster the development of good bacteria,” board-certified family physician Cate Shanahan, M.D., tells us on the mindbodygreen podcast. “This is going to be the vegetables and the seed oils.” Think moringa seed oil, oat oil, and squalene, as well as shea butter to cushion the skin.
Moisturizing immediately after washing is the gold standard of hand care, but if you’re unable to do so, try to at least squeeze it in within two minutes post-wash; otherwise, the water can evaporate and lead to drier skin than before. Simply keep your hand creams within arm’s reach—here are some of our favorites to carry around.