Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD
Dry hands that persist despite the use of lotions and creams may be a sign of a condition called hand eczema.
Eczema is a term for different types of skin inflammation (dermatitis). The symptoms of eczema commonly include itchy, reddened, dry skin. Many things can cause this type of skin irritation such as dryness, soaps and detergents, cleaning products, rubber gloves and even cosmetic lotions and creams. Since the skin is itchy, prolonged scratching often occurs which in turn leads to reddened, irritated, scaling skin or to a leathery thickening of the skin (sometimes called lichenification). Cracking and weeping of the skin may also occur and open sores may become infected.
The causes of eczema have not been fully determined. Allergies, stress, irritants, and genetic factors are all believed to be related to the development of this condition. The tendency to have skin reactions like this often runs in families. People with eczema involving their hands may also have symptoms of asthma, food allergies, or hay fever.
There are no diagnostic tests that positively establish a diagnosis of eczema, and your doctor will rely largely on taking a detailed history of the condition to establish a diagnosis of hand eczema. A patch test can also be done to determine if specific allergies are causing the condition. A microscopic evaluation of a skin scraping or skin culture may reveal the presence of an infection.
Those with hand eczema can experience symptom relief by:
- avoiding scratching
- using plenty of moisturizer (one that is not allergenic)
- limiting exposure to potential irritants including the wearing of protective gloves
- using hypoallergenic soap
- limiting the amount of hand washing
- washing the hands in lukewarm water only
Hand eczema that persists despite these measures or becomes unusually painful can be treated by your doctor. Prescription ointments, light treatments, antihistamines, and corticosteroids have all been used to control symptoms of eczema. Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic if the irritated skin has become infected.