If you’ve been diagnosed with hand eczema (also called hand dermatitis), you know how much it can interfere with your daily life. After all, your hands are exposed to all sorts of things throughout the course of a day. Some of these substances and situations can cause eczema symptoms to flare. That’s why it’s important to know what to do — and what not to do — if you develop eczema on your hands.
Hand eczema is common. It affects between 10 percent and 15 percent of people worldwide and accounts for 20 percent to 35 percent of all cases of eczema. Although all forms of eczema lead to red, itchy skin, eczema that affects the hands can appear somewhat differently.
Hand eczema can affect your palms, the backs of your hands, and your fingers. It can cause the skin on your hands to crack, blister, or become so dry that it starts to flake or peel. As one MyEczemaTeam member shared, “My hands are very bad. I can’t open them fully due to cracks.” The accompanying burning or pain may worsen when you use your hands in daily activities.
One particular type of eczema that affects the hands is known as dyshidrotic eczema (also called pompholyx or dyshidrosis). This condition causes sudden itching followed by the appearance of small blisters (vesicles), usually on the sides of a person’s fingers. The vesicles usually last for a few weeks before they dry up and the affected skin peels off. Such peeling can leave your skin particularly tender and can lead to cracks, which can, in turn, make you susceptible to skin infections.
It is important that you work with your dermatologist to develop a personal eczema treatment plan. Understanding what aggravates your symptoms may help you better manage your condition. There are also several at-home approaches you can take to protect your skin and soothe dry, cracked, or painful areas during flares.
Here’s what you need to know to start developing a plan to manage your hand eczema symptoms.
As the National Eczema Association notes, the best way of treating eczema on the hands is to avoid what triggers your symptoms in the first place. According to one MyEczemaTeam member with hand eczema, “I am avoiding a relapse by staying away from what I am allergic to.”
Many different things can cause eczema symptoms to flare. These triggers, or irritants, can vary from person to person. Some people respond to extreme temperatures, while others develop symptoms after they eat certain foods, wash with certain soaps, or work in their gardens. Changes in weather can aggravate symptoms, too. As one MyEczemaTeam member wrote, “In the winter, my hands crack open and bleed. For years, I didn’t know it was eczema.”
It’s often much easier to avoid irritants than to treat eczema symptoms once they develop. So knowing what circumstances and substances trigger eczema on your hands can have a big impact on your symptoms. That said, identifying your unique triggers may take time. Tracking changes in your symptoms in a journal may help you identify what activities, products, or times of year lead to worsened hand eczema for you.
Finding the right moisturizer can help you avoid dryness, soothe your discomfort, and allow your hands to heal. The best moisturizers for people with hand eczema are those with a high oil content. Creams and ointments that contain oil, such as mineral oil and petroleum jelly, help your skin maintain its moisture and protect it from irritating triggers. Conversely, moisturizers with a higher water content can dehydrate your skin and worsen your eczema symptoms.
You may need to experiment to find out what works best for you. It’s a good idea to test new creams or ointments on a small area of your skin to gauge your reaction before applying it all over your hands. It is important to apply moisturizer after you wash your hands with soaps or alcohol-based hand sanitizers that dry out the skin.
Hand eczema is especially common for people whose work requires them to use their hands frequently. This type of eczema even has a name: occupational dermatitis. People who work in hairdressing, health care, cleaning, and other jobs that involve working with irritants like chemicals may find that their hands burn, crack, or peel. As one MyEczemaTeam member who is a hairstylist described, “Every day is a struggle with eczema on the palms of my hands. Itching, burning, tingling … I can’t stand it.”
If work or daily tasks trigger eczema on your hands, you may be allergic to chemicals or materials that you touch during the day. Talk to your dermatologist about patch testing if you suspect this. And try wearing gloves. Simple cotton gloves can protect your hands when you fold laundry, for instance. The National Eczema Association recommends opting for vinyl gloves with cotton liners if a task requires your hands to get wet. Disposable gloves are helpful when dealing with foods that may irritate your skin.
Many of MyEczemaTeam members use gloves to protect their hands every day. As one recommended, “You can get dishwashing gloves without latex. Also, wear cotton gloves underneath the dish gloves.” Another shared the importance of gloves, saying, “I've been doing OK, but I washed dishes without gloves, so my hands are a mess!”
Some people with hand eczema find that the fragrances in body products trigger their eczema. With that in mind, choose fragrance-free versions of everything you can. That includes dish soap as well as skincare products like hand soap, body soap, and moisturizer. The same goes for other cleansers like shampoo, detergent, and more. As one MyEczemaTeam member recommended, “Stay clear of any fragrances or perfumes in ALL products — including your laundry detergent, fabric softener, dish detergent, and cleaning products.”
The American Academy of Dermatology Association advises avoiding products labeled as “unscented.” This term may mean a fragrance has been used to mask the product’s original scent. Bland and simple products have less potential for irritation.
Hot water may temporarily soothe your irritated skin, but hot water is also drying, and many people find that it makes their eczema worse. As one member wrote, “Hot water makes my eczema come out. If I use cool water, I will not break out, but if I use hot water, I will have breakouts on different parts of my body.” Whenever you wash your hands or submerge them in water, make sure that you use lukewarm water instead of hot.
Keeping your daily shower or bath short — 5 or 10 minutes — and applying moisturizer immediately afterward will also help keep your skin hydrated. Another member advised reducing the frequency of handwashing: “Don’t wash your hands all day — only when touching things, shaking hands, cooking, or after using the bathroom.”
Both cold and hot weather may trigger eczema flare-ups on your hands. “I am noticing that when the weather is cold, my hands become itchy and tender,” wrote one member, while another shared, “I start itching when I get warm or if the weather is warm or hot.”
In the wintertime, cold outside air will take moisture from your skin. (Also, the dry air blown out of most heating units will dry out a person’s skin.) It’s best for those who experience hand eczema to avoid extreme temperatures whenever possible. So if you have to go out when it’s very hot or cold outside, take precautions. Keep your hands at a neutral temperature by wearing gloves or staying in the shade.
If your dry or itchy hands are bothersome, try covering them with petroleum jelly at night, then slip on a pair of cotton or nitrile rubber gloves. The gloves help the petroleum jelly moisturize your skin without staining your sheets or clothes.
One member shared, “I wear nitrile gloves (with the fingers cut off) after I slather the petroleum jelly on at night.”
If you have been diagnosed with eczema or you love and help care for someone with this condition, you may want support from time to time. On MyEczemaTeam, the social network for people diagnosed with eczema and those who love them, more than 40,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with eczema.
Do you have eczema on your hands? What tips do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.