There are two types of hand eczema (also known as hand dermatitis): dry form and wet form. Although commonly referred to as “housewives eczema”, it can affect men too, particularly in its wet form. Hand dermatitis is a common skin condition affecting up to 10% of the US population, with both internal (genetic predisposition) and external (contact with irritants and allergens) factors contributing to its appearance.
As its name suggests, the dry form eczema results in dry, fractured skin, with telltale little cracks on fingertips. Household work, such as cleaning or frequent water exposure, aggravates the symptoms and can prolong the healing process. Occupational factors may also attribute to the worsening of symptoms, as professions that require frequent hand washing (medical professionals, chefs, and barbers) are more prone to dry form eczema. Even the weather plays its part: a dry, cold winter makes skin feel dryer than during more humid parts of the year, resulting in further cracking of the skin surface.
Unfortunately, drinking lots of water will not sufficiently hydrate skin and is unlikely to improve hand dermatitis. The most effective way to deal with this chronic skin condition is to moisturize your skin. An ideal moisturizer for hand eczema performs three functions: it intensively moisturizes dry skin, it repairs damage of the skin barrier, and it reduces skin irritation and hand rashes. Historically steroid-containing creams (such as hydrocortisone cream) were recommended for dry form hand dermatitis, however it is important to note that the dry form of hand eczema does not itch, which negates most of the benefit of this approach.
Furthermore, since our hands contact many different objects (including ourselves) throughout the day, any steroid-based cream applied to the fingertips will rub off on whatever surface they touch. While dry, cracked skin may cause discomfort or even pain, a strong, steroid-free moisturizer will improve dried or cracked skin quickly without any potential side effects. Before turning to steroid-based prescription medication, we recommend trying an intensive moisturizer first.
Unlike the dry form, the wet form is often associated with blisters, oozing, and itchy rashes. It is less associated with seasonal change but rather with contact irritants or allergic triggers. As a result, it is crucial to carefully observe which materials you come in contact with in your daily routine that causes symptoms to worsen.
For the most severe cases of hand eczema, whether wet or dry, medical treatment may be necessary to ease symptoms. However, identifying your potential triggers is an important way to avoid any future flare ups. Using a high quality moisturizer between medical treatments may ease symptoms and accelerate the healing process.