What To Look for in a Hand Cream, According to Dermatologists Who Know

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The search for a good hand cream is like the search for a lover (can't even type that without smirking). It's not always so easy to find one good enough to keep around. Hand creams are either too thick, or don't absorb well enough. They can be too greasy and just feel like slime on your fingers (yuck). I guess in my case, finding the perfect hand cream is even harder than finding a boyfriend...because I've found the latter but not the former. What's a gal to do? Call a skin expert, of course.

"All hand creams seem great when you first put them on," says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a board-certified dermatopathologist (an expert of dermatology and pathology who looks at conditions on a cellular level). "After one wash, or an hour or two, hands seem to revert back to their dry or scaly state, or some make your hands so greasy that buttoning your shirt in the morning or typing is an exercise in futility."

Experts In This Article

Finding a feel-good, effective hand cream is all about knowing what key ingredients to look for. "When looking for a hand cream, look for glycolic acid to help prevent the loss of elasticity," says Dr. Frieling. Also beneficial, according to her: vitamin C, vitamin B, peptides, shea butter, lanolin, and hyaluronic acid. "No single hand cream will have all of these ingredients, but try to find one that has at least three of these," she says, noting that these all work to help prevent moisture loss and protect the skin so it can heal.

Sharleen St.Surin-Lord, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Washington DC, adds that you want to look for formulas with ceramides.

"In a hand cream, you want ceramides, because ceramides are like the mortar that holds the skin together," says Dr. St Surin-Lord. "If you think of building a house, you need bricks, you need mortar. Those bricks aren't going to stick together unless you have a good mortar. Same thing for skin cells." When the skin is dry, it cracks and you get transepidermal water loss. Ceramides are the mortar that prevent that moisture loss.

As for what to avoid?  Fragrances and any added color if you've got sensitive skin, says Dr. Frieling. And to make sure you're not going to get a greasy residue, she recommends steering clear of synthetic thickening agents like triglycerides or palmitates. Now—let's get to the good hand creams to actually buy, shall we?

Best hand cream for dry skin

Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream
Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream — $4.00

“The search for a non-greasy, yet hydrating hand cream can be a daunting task for many of my patients, especially those with hand dermatitis,” says Rina Allawh, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pennsylvania. “I highly recommend the Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. This product contains a high concentration of glycerin, an important player in restoring moisture and the protective skin barrier.”

CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream
CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream — $12.00

Dermatologists are always raving about the brand’s moisturizing cream, but Dr. Frieling adds that the brand’s hand cream is also really effective. “I love this because it moisturizes my hands with hyaluronic acid, calms the skin with niacinamide, and replenishes the skin’s natural barrier with three different ceramides,” she says. It’s also fragrance-free and absorbs quickly, so it goes on without a trace. An added bonus for those with mature skin: CeraVe’s Therapeutic Hand Cream is also featured on our list of the best hand creams for age spots.

Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm
Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm — $18.00

“My favorite hand cream is the Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm,” says Dr. St. Surin-Lord. “That is my favorite of all time, because it’s really soothing and it’s healing. After washing my hands twice every day before and after every patient, my hands are so dry and horrible-looking. This balm actually helps to repair my hands and they look human again.”

Goldfaden MD Hands to Heart Hand Treatment
Goldfaden MD Hands to Heart Hand Treatment — $38.00

This one does it all—it’s got niacinamide, the almighty vitamin B form that’s great for your skin’s barrier, retinol, peptides, hyaluronic acid, as well as CoQ10 and squalane. In other words: Your hands will be pleased.

Lano Rose Hand Cream Intense — $15.00

This rich hand cream with a slight rose scent moisturizes skin with luxe lanolin and a blend of rose oil that leaves your hands happy and with a light-as-air kiss of the flower garden (something everyone needs in the darkest days of winter).

L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream
L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream — $13.00

Dr. Frieling also loves this hand cream since it’s really creamy, and contains 20 percent organic shea butter, which is rich in fatty acids, plus honey for soothing and softening the skin. According to the brand’s website, one of these babies sells every three seconds, so there must be some really moisturized hands out there.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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