Let’s make a shortlist of some things that dry your hands, or that age the hands’ skin faster than natural. There’s hot water, long showers, cold temps, dry winds, intense labor, excessive sanitizing or washing, toxins and pollution in the air… there’s no need to go on; you get the picture.
It seems like everything, left and right, is trying to compromise the softness and smoothness of your precious hands — especially at the height of winter, and especially during a pandemic. This means more hangnails, more cracked knuckles, more scaly patches of skin, more agony overall unless you’re dedicated to the counterattack and defense. And there’s a single solution for both of those: A nutrient-dense hand cream (or balm), that resuscitates dry skin and prevents it from falling out of form again.
Below you'll find more than a dozen of our absolute favorites for at any time of year — but especially winter, when the wind and cold weather really accelerate dryness.
This citrus- and vanilla-tinged hand cream utilizes oils of rosehip, grapeseed, and orange peel as well as vitamin E to defend hands from signs of aging (the antioxidants reduce oxidative stress). Lactic acid breaks down rough patches and aloe vera soothes upon contact. It delivers on its promise to soften cuticles, too, and is free of any dense residue after it quickly soaks in.
Does any other hand cream (or balm, for that matter) belong atop this list? No. Aesop has enjoyed a long reign here, so much so that there’s a feverish cult of people (millions of them) who proudly display this stuff in their bathroom like it’s a Warhol or something. It smells incredible, first of all (citrusy crisp, herbaceous and woody), thanks to the trio of hero ingredients: mandarin rind, rosemary leaf and cedar. There’s gravity to each application, and you can feel that weight (in a good way) as it seeps into your driest knuckles, most cracked cuticles, and roughest patches. Gone are the hangnails, the uncomfortable cracks, and uneven texture. And gone is your Aesop hand balm if you don’t keep close watch over your house guests.
Lather’s cream targets extreme dryness, and is engineered for people who find that fragrant products aggravate their skin—though it’s perfect for everyone else, too. With a shea butter base, along with cocoa seed butter, olive fatty acids, plus oils of safflower, lavender oat, tea tree, and more, it focuses on the necessary nourishment of your skin, and not the unnecessary flourishings of scent and dye.
Antioxidants abound in Dr. Barbara Sturm’s sturdy hand cream, in the form of purslane and vitamin E. They prevent everyday aging while hyaluronic acid supercharges moisture retention, daisy extract evens out skin tone, prickly pear and aloe vera soothe, and a ceramide complex envelops the skin to lock the good in, and the bad out.
Nothing sucks more than a hangnail. And nothing procures hangnails more than overwashing, excessive sanitizing, and cold, dry temps. Furthermore, most hand creams target one or both of these things, without focusing on the nails themselves—and those guys need nourishment and fortification, too! (And no biotin supplement will do damage control to the nail that’s already grown.) Clarins’ shea butter formula also uses extract of myrrh (yes, one of the gifts that Newborn Baby Jesus got, lucky you), to resurrect your dry mitts, prevent and restore hangnails and buff and strengthen and soften your fingernails themselves — all in one fell swoop.
Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve repairs cracked and damaged hands with a thick, reparative formula designed to not only restore moisture levels but trap the moisture in that this salve delivers.
L'Occitane's cream packs a citrusy punch, but it isn't just a fragrance. This formula hydrates deep down, courtesy of cedrat extract and shea butter, which softens the skin's surface.
Although Jack Black's formula is described as industrial strength, it isn't toxic or too harsh. It's imbued with vitamins A and E, two antioxidants that protect but also strengthen the skin. Macadamia nut oil is the base, and it's effective at penetrating the skin's surface and hydrating it deep down.
Formulated with shea butter, avocado oil and olive oil, this C.O. Bigelow option leaves the skin feeling soft, refreshed and spritzed with notes of citrus and bergamot.
Like others on this list, Maapilim's super-soft hand cream comes imbued with notes of bergamot and vetiver. Jojoba, coconut and aloe combines forces to restore the skin both on the surface level and deep down. But what's most impressive about this option is its texture: soft yet airy, mildly like a mousse yet it rubs in like a lotion.
Because Le Labo's hand lotion comes with a pump it makes it harder to tow around, but that doesn't make it less effective — or appealing. Place it on the counter or in the bathroom, and tap it whenever necessary. Notes of hinoki and cypress lend a designer scent, while the formulation does the obvious job of hydrating and repairing dry skin.
No-Crack has been in production since 1942, and the formula remains largely unchanged. It has an admittedly elegant feel without the luxe pricetag. Plus, it is made in the US, features allantoin (a scar tissue healant) and comes lightly scented rather than blended with some complex fragrance.
Shea butter forms the foundation of Lumin's hand balm, which means this option hydrates like lotion but without the greasy feel. It has a lightly botanical odor and extracts within that repair skin damage.
Suede not only refers to the formula's soft feel, but its fragrance, too. Because Byredo is a fragrance label first and foremost, this option unfurls on the skin (but also leaves it feeling soft): bergamot, lily of the valley and pear on top and musk, amber and velvet plum as you wear it.
A rousing trip of patchouli, smoke, and wood lingers on T&D’s balm, which has a shea butter base and a host of nourishing oils and extracts, from sunflower and goji seeds to dragon’s blood resin and kawakawa (hey, we had to look it up, too — it’s a tree in New Zealand, which is from where Triumph & Disaster itself hails). It spreads on like butter, then soaks in fast like… melted butter. This 16-ounce bottle goes a long way, too, even if you’re washing and hydrating frequently each day.