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When skin gets very dry it can crack. Cracked skin is particularly common on hands and feet, especially on fingers, thumbs, knuckles and heels.

What causes cracked skin on hands, fingers and feet?

The most common cause of cracks and fissures in skin is extreme dryness. There are many different factors that can cause our skin to dry out which include:

  • • Genetics: some of us are more predisposed to dry skin than others.
  • • The weather: dry skin is a common cold weather complaint. A decrease in humidity outside, an increase in indoor central heating and the fact that we move constantly between the two causes skin to dry out.
  • • The way we treat our skin: certain jobs (those that require manual labor and/or frequent washing e.g. mechanics, medical professionals and hairdressers) put more pressure on skin than others and can also cause it to dry out.
  • • Medication: Some medicines cause skin dryness as a side effect.

Hands (especially knuckles and cuticles) and feet (especially heels) are particular prone to extremely dry and cracked skin.

Cracked skin on hands and fingers

The structure of skin on our hands makes them less able to bind in and retain moisture and more prone to extreme dryness than other parts of our body.

Our hands are almost constantly exposed to the environment and temperature changes. They are frequently in contact with water and cleaning products. Daily washing up, without gloves, dries out the skin on our hands while some professions involve friction and/or regular contact with harsh chemicals that further exacerbate skin condition.

When skin dries out it is even harder for it to retain the moisture it needs. This causes it to dry out further and crack. Symptoms range in severity from small cracks around our cuticles to larger cracks on our fingers, thumbs and knuckles. Skin needs SOS care.

Constantly dry, scaly, red, itchy and irritable skin on hands can be a symptom of Hand Eczema or Contact Dermatitis.

Cracked skin on feet

Our feet are under constant pressure. Whether we are walking, running or merely standing still for long periods of time they carry our weight. The epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) on the soles of our feet has developed to be naturally thicker and harder. The skin on our feet also doesn’t have sebaceous glands so it is particularly susceptible to dryness.

Feet are then often subjected to the pressures and friction that come from hard surfaces or inappropriate footwear. These stresses can cause our feet, especially the heel pads, to dry out further. Skin thickens and expands and eventually fissures develop. Cracked heels are a common complaint and, beyond basic skin health, can be both unsightly and uncomfortable.

How should I care for the skin on my hands, fingers and feet?

Regular care of the skin on your hands, fingers and feet will help to prevent skin from drying out and cracking. Here are some suggestions for how to look after your skin in these common problem areas:

  • If you work with chemicals, wear protective gloves on your hands
  • Wash your hands in lukewarm water (water that is too hot or too cold can aggravate skin)
  • Avoid harsh cleansing products (use products that have a skin-friendly pH value such as Eucerin pH5 Handwash Oil instead)
  • Ensure you wear shoes that fit well
  • Regularly soften your cuticles with a moisturizer (to avoid damaging them) and then gently push them back.
  • Ensure you wear shoes that fit well
  • Try to limit the time you spend in footwear that puts extra pressure on your feet such as thin-soled sandals and high heels
  • Keep your toe nails clipped so they don’t damage your skin
  • Gently remove hard skin using a pumice stone or equivalent when your skin is softened after bathing
  • Moisturize regularly: it’s easy to forget to moisturize your feet in the winter months

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