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The hands have it – AND, a giveaway

wintercreekIt’s winter where we live (which is, strangely enough, why we refer to the place as ‘Chez Siberia’). We got up as high as 24 this week. Woohoo!! Break out the suntan lotion and halter tops (or something like that).

Winter is tough on everyone, especially on exposed skin (I will not try to get statistics on the sales of lip balm at this time of the year, but I have the feeling that something like 75% of the pockets in North America have at least one tube of lip balm in them at this very moment). But exposure to cold and wind is not the only thing and exposed skin is not the only area of the body that suffers in the winter.

Daughter the Younger, from a very early age, used to have something our doctor used to refer to as ‘Winter Itch’. Nothing worked for her until he got the pharmacy to concoct (love that word) a lotion with frankly some steroids in it. I’d like to say that she outgrew it but frankly, I think what she outgrew was the heating system in our house because as soon as she left for college, and a non-forced hot air system, voila! The rash and itching was gone.

The culprit? Dry air. I can’t even claim it was HOT, dry air because(ahem – no this is not some sort of Zen monastery here; at the time, the house was, unknown to us, totally uninsulated) the house temperatures hovered in the 60-65 degree range in the winter time. It was the DRYness of the air.

While we had any Little Siberians in cloth diapers (and this is so long ago, it predates the very ‘kewl’ cloth diapering ‘systems’ that are available today; we’re talking straight oblong white birdseye nappies, with an extra thick one folded up in the middle, with plastic pants), the DH and I suffered from cracked red hands that nothing would touch. Between the dry air and changing the babies, washing them up, washing our hands numerous time of the day, soaking the diapers, rinsing the diapers and washing the diapers, our hands were in very rough shape.

So the culprits there were the washing (which removes natural skin oils and also exposes the skin to the chemical action of the soap and water and the physical action of drying on a towel) as well as the dry air.

Once we got into raising livestock and then gardening in a big way..well, ditto. You can just imagine how many MORE times a day we were washing our hands.

Now, we’ve tried all sorts of products over the years and what you have, really, is a combination of items whose entire reason for being is to hold moisture onto the skin and prevent it from evaporating. If you can prevent the dry air and chemicals (soap and water, chemicals from farming and gardening activities) from getting to the skin to strip even more moisture from the skin, then you have a really good shot at keeping the skin on your hands in one piece (which, as we all know skin is our ‘first line of defense’, is the name of the game).

So, how to do that? Greases and waxes.
Pull out your tube or jar of hand cream and check the ingredients. The first one usually (except in heavy duty creams such as “A&D Ointment” and diaper ‘pastes’) will probably be good old fashioned water (or, if they are being fancy, they’ll call it ‘aqua’). Water has two functions here – first as the medium to mix everything else so that what you’ve got is something that can be spread across the skin easily and can then be rubbed into the skin AND, again, this is what we’re trying to keep on the skin in any case. The second ingredient (and I’ve got a pile of tubes and jars in front of me so I’m checking them as I go) is going to be something in the grease and/or wax category:
Paraffinum Liquidum(Nivea) — good ol’ paraffin wax (which is petroleum based)
Cetearyl Alcohol (which is a group of fatty ‘alcohols’) — a grease
Coco (or some other nut-based butter such as almond, etc.)
Cod Liver Oil (usually in one of the more heavy duty creams like A&D, diaper pastes and so on)
Glycerin (aka ‘glycerol’), which, though not a fat itself, forms the backbone of all fats and is used as a ‘humectant’ (water-holding) and solvent (other ingredients can be suspended in it).
Petrolatum (petroleum jelly)
Mineral oil (one of the distallates of petroleum)
Lanolin (grease extracted from the fleeces of sheep) – this has waxy AND greasy components and is very sticky.

Now, what you want from a hand cream is a) that it puts moisture back on and into the skin and b) that it also forms an effective barrier to chemical/physical action and the action of water and dry air from evaporating that moisture away from the body. The more you can keep that moisture onto the skin, the better your chance to heal up split fingers, cracks on the skin and hang-nails. Some of these ingredients work better than others. For example, petroleum (however you feel about it being from oil) is a very effective physical barrier in terms of sealing. But it’s sticky and greasy. Lanolin, is even stickier and is actually, because of it’s waxy component, harder to spread effectively on the hands; it’s more like trying to spread a piece of frozen butter on a slice of bread. Glycerin is a great humectant, and is less sticky, so is less effective at holding the water onto the skin itself. Cod Liver Oil has benefits in terms of Vit.A, but is very sticky (as is Vit. E by the way).

So, what we have, generally speaking, is a compromise solution – something that moisturizes and has some effectiveness as a barrier, but is not so greasy or sticky that it interferes with daily activities — and therefore must be reapplied several times a day to continue being effective. It’s all a case of finding something that works for you, your activities and your skin chemistry. If you work with chemicals, outdoors where you have to wash your hands a lot, care for small children (where, again, you have to wash your hands a lot – and if you are NOT washing your hands a lot, I’d like to speak with you later…), you will want to find something with a more effective barrier. If you are someone who has sensitivities to fragrances, you are going to want to check the ingredients lists for those ingredients. If you have sensitivities to, for example, vinyl gloves or silicone, you will want to check the ingredients lists for anything that comes from the petroleum family.

Now, certainly, you can – literally on your kitchen table – concoct your own hand lotion or cream – go to the drug store and get a bottle of glycerin and mix that one for one with water. If you want to be fancy, you can either at the drug store or at your grocery store, get a bottle of rose water or orange flower water and do the same thing. But, a more effective way, certainly is to get a product that already has been mixed together.

Here’s the ‘TRUTH IN ADVERTISING’ Moment:
Your old Aunty usually does not promote products — I think I’ve pumped a couple over the past five years but I usually don’t because frankly, if I don’t use them, I’m not going to tell you that they are good. I recently was offered some samples of a hand cream developed for a rancher and certainly, we’re always willing to give something a shot to see if there is any benefit.
Working Hands
Now, the DH and I generally speaking, use hand creams that frankly use coco butter or coconut oil bases, so our hands have that fragrance. So, the first thing we noticed is that a) this cream goes on well, but not with the same sort of slick action that we get with the grease-based we use and b) it has no fragrance at all. Unlike our usual creams, it maintains that non-greasy, smooth dry texture on the skin after use, which is a real benefit in terms of doing things like working on a computer, writing or drawing on paper and so on. From an ingredients standpoint, it’s got water (yay!), glycerin, and stearic acid (which is a fat) as the first three items in the list. It’s a very different feel from what we are used to, but certainly from a ‘holding moisture on the skin’, skin softening and so on, we found it to be a very effective product. I’ve also seen that it’s available widely, including in places such as A.C. Moore, interestingly enough.

The company makes other products based on the same formula, including a foot cream. Many people (hey, me, too) suffer from real foot woes, and an effective foot cream is a winner in my book. The products are made in Cincinnati, Ohio (now there’s a good old-fashioned American place to produce hand and foot cream, eh?).

I have, in my posession, ONE 3.4 ounce jar of the Working Hands cream and ONE 3.2 ounce jar of the Healthy Feet foot cream. If you are interested in perhaps getting either of these, please put in the comments “feet” or “hands” and I will put the names in a hat, draw out one and contact you for your mailing address. Hey, what do you have to lose? Just cracked feet and hands, right? Go for it!!

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  1. newdealfarmgrrrlll says:


    An endlessly fascinating topic! When my thyroid levels start dropping, as they did over the last few months, cracking and bleeding on the fingertips of my hands gets much worse. I’m now on a higher dose of thyroid med, but my hands are slow to accept the message.

    Currently I’m using two Aveda products that I love, Hand Relief, and Foot Relief, Xmas presents from the kids, for routine moisturizing. When the cracks are deep and painful, I use Badger Care Healing Balm at bedtime followed immediately by donning cotton gloves as the stuff is very greasy.

    As a young farmgrrrlll, I used Bag Balm. My Dad swore by it and lathered it on us kids for everything from bug bites and nettle burns to cuts and scrapes. As well as moisturizing dry hands!

  2. htwollin says:

    NDFG — I have two issues with Bag Balm: the strong camphorated smell and the stickiness.

  3. newdealfarmgrrrlll says:

    Exactly. That’s why I haven’t used it for decades. It was pretty trendy for a while here, cute little containers of it in quilting shops, etc.

  4. Suzanne says:

    i’ve used the body shop’s hemp hand protector on my hands but my favorite in winter is plain old coconut oil. i’ll slather that stuff on my face, hands, feet, arms… love it but it does make typing difficult after application. coco butter always reminds me of summer and lasts longer than oil but it has its down side two.

    guess i’m both a hands and feet since both dry out so badly. i’ve also got thyroid issues like ndfg. never had a dryness problem until it went haywire

  5. Sandra says:

    Hands, please! I’m a nurse with dry skin/bad thyroid who lives in the desert, I need all the help I can get!

  6. LindaC in AZ says:

    Hands please. It is dry here.

  7. Tyneisha says:

    Hands! Between juggling kids, washing dishes, cleaning and everything else, my hands are dry and need relief!

  8. jessica e says:

    feet please! thanks!

  9. rachel sayers says:


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