When skin gets very dry it can crack. Cracked skin is particularly common on hands and feet, especially on fingers, thumbs, knuckles and heels. This article looks at what causes dry skin to crack on hands, fingers and feet and the steps you can take to support skin regeneration for smoother, softer skin.
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. You can read more about these and other causes in rough, dry and cracked body skin.
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. You can find out why in Skin on different 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 and you can read more about those conditions in Atopic Dermatitis on the hands.
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. You can find out more in skin on different parts of the body.
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:
How to care for your hands and fingers
- 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)
- Moisturize regularly: Keep a caring product such as Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment next to every place where you wash your hands (at home and at work). Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment is available in a range of formats and sizes making it easy for you to have one with you whenever your skin needs a bit of SOS care.
- Regularly soften your cuticles with a moisturizer (to avoid damaging them) and then gently push them back.
Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment also makes an ideal overnight treatment for cracked cuticles and very dry hands. Massage a fingertip of product into each hand before you go to bed taking care to massage the cuticles with a little bit more of the ointment. Your skin will be smoother and softer in the morning. You can wear cotton gloves if you like to intensify the effect and avoid the product rubbing onto your sheets.
For regular use on dry, sensitive hands we recommend Eucerin pH5 Hand Cream. If your hands are very dry and rough try Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS Hand Cream 5% Urea. If you suffer from Atopic Dermatitis on your hands we recommend Eucerin AtopiControl Hand Cream.
How to care for the skin on your feet
- 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
Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS Foot Cream 10% Urea has been specially formulated to help you care for dry and extremely dry skin on your feet and thickened heels. Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment is ideal for cracked skin on your heels and elsewhere on your feet. It gives skin the SOS care it needs and is proven to repair very dry, cracked or irritated skin. A couple of fingertips of product is normally about the right amount for each foot.
How can I get rid of cracked skin on my hands, fingers and feet?
The best form of skin care for your hands, fingers and feet is regular moisturization. This will help to prevent uncomfortable and unsightly cracks.
Once cracks have developed, Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment is ideal for targeting problem areas. The soothing, transparent ointment is easy to apply and massages gently into very dry and/or cracked skin such as the knees and elbows, knuckles, cuticles and heels.
The water-free ointment forms a gentle protective barrier over skin. Semi-occlusive, this barrier supports the natural transfer of water vapor and oxygen to and from skin, and moisturizing actives Glycerin and Panthenol help to speed up regeneration while soothing and smoothing skin.
You may find you need less than you think (a small fingertip of product for your hands and a larger fingertip for each foot is often all you need) and you can apply the ointment as often as is needed:
- The handy 7ml, 10ml and 45ml tubes are easy to pop into your pocket or bag so the ointment is always to hand when you need to apply or reapply during the day or for when you have a spare few minutes to soften and push back your cuticles.
- The larger 220ml tube and 449ml jar and tube formats are ideal for daily use after showering or bathing.
- It can also be used for intensive overnight care. Apply to hands and/or feet before you go to bed and, if you like, cover with cotton gloves or socks for softer, smoother skin in the morning.
Eucerin Aquaphor Repairing Ointment has been clinically and dermatologically proven to repair very dry, cracked or irritated skin. Additional research on very dry and cracked hands has also shown that it makes a statistically significant difference overnight even after just one use. Those benefits continue with regular use.
It should not be used on open, bleeding or wet wounds on your hands and feet but, once new tissue has formed (the medical term for this is re-epithelialization), it can be used as often as needed.