As the colder temperatures push thermometers into numbers below zero, our skin feels it, too. Wintry weather and COVID-19 mandated handwashing can wreak havoc on the skin.

If you’ve ever experienced the pain of cracked, dry, or rough skin, you understand the pain and inconvenience it causes.

This year everyone is more susceptible to experiencing cracks in their fingers. The constant handwashing, hand sanitizing, and cold, dry Wisconsin air create the perfect environment for cracks to form. And when they do, they are bound to last longer and take more time and effort to heal.

Preventing cracks in your skin keeps you healthier.

Your skin is your immune system’s first line of defense. When your skin cracks, those tiny separations give bacteria and viruses a ticket to enter your body. This fact is especially true during the holiday shopping season. When stores are crowded and more people suffer from cold and flu viruses, grasping a shopping cart handle or opening a door with cracked or chapped hands makes you more susceptible to illness.

Keep bacteria and viruses at bay with a one-two punch.

  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer while on the go.
  • After cleaning your skin, liberally apply a high-quality moisturizer to keep your skin soft and supple.

The best way to treat cracked skin is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

A dab of prevention is worth a tube of cure.

Here are seven tips to keep the skin on your hands and feet supple all year long.

  1. Change your soap if necessary. Check the ingredients in your hand soap. If it contains alcohol, choose another product. Alcohol dries out the skin. There are many soaps on the market today that include aloe vera and other moisturizing products.
  2. Blot. Don’t rub. After washing your hands for 20 seconds, you may be tempted to grab a towel and rub your hands dry. But don’t. Rubbing can create tiny breaks in the skin that can lead to larger cracks.
  3. Moisturize. Moisturizers work in one of two ways. They create a barrier to lock in the body’s moisture or add moisture to the skin’s outermost layer. A dab will do you. Squeeze a nickel-sized amount of moisturizer on your hands and work it into your skin. Slathering on layer after layer will not give you more benefits.
  4. Use a high-quality moisturizer. Not all dry-skin products are created equal. A product made with natural oils, ceramides, and linoleic acid can create a moisture barrier. But which type should you choose?
    • Lotions follow the 80/20 rule for mixing water and oil. They are usually lighter and more fragrant but may not protect your hands during Wisconsin’s winter weather.
    • Creams offer more protection for hands and feet with a mix of 50 percent oil and 50 percent water.
    • Heavy-duty ointments provide the best moisturizing protection. Many of today’s ointments were formulated to treat the weather-worn, hard-working hands of fisherman and farmers.
  5. Wear gloves inside and out. Wear rubber gloves while washing dishes. The gloves stop the hot soapy water from removing the natural oils from your hands.

    As temperatures drop, keep your hands warm. Wear gloves when you go outside – even if you’re just dashing outside to start the car. Even short-term exposure to cold temperatures can start a chain of events in your body that decreases blood flow to your hands, affecting the body’s circulation and ability to keep your skin moist.

  6. Hydrate. Add water, decaffeinated herbal teas, or lemon, coconut, or cucumber water to your daily routine and hydrate from the inside out. Drink coffee and alcohol in moderation. Both types of beverages have a dehydrating effect.
  7. Give your hands and feet an overnight spa treatment. There are several skin-care products on the market designed to soften and rehydrate skin overnight. Using one of these products on your hands with cotton gloves or on your feet with cotton socks can jump-start your skin conditioning program. Letting the moisture penetrate your skin all night will help it stay supple all day.

If you have cracks on your hands or feet, clean the area, moisturize, and then cover with a liquid bandage. Change the bandage morning and night.

If you suffer from chronic dry skin on your hands and feet or if the cracks in your skin are not healing, make an appointment with a health care provider.

Cracks on your feet may need special care. If you have calluses and cracks on your feet, make an appointment with a podiatrist. A podiatrist specializes in the treatment of feet and can help you get back to health faster.