The primary cause for deeply dehydrated hands comes from washing and the immediate application of alcohol-based sanitizers. This is part of the job, BUT you can take steps to help alleviate the worst conditions.
ON THE JOB
While some facilities/practices prohibit the application of emollients (lotions or creams) on the floor, taking a moment to rehydrate your skin on your personal breaks will help tremendously. Choose products that will 1) add moisture (water) back 2) prevent moisture loss (see ingredient list below.)
According to OSHA, employees must be allowed to wear protective equipment such as glove liners to prevent injury. Look for cotton glove liners to slip on under your exam glove. They will absorb excess perspiration, part of the reason, the skin leaches natural oils.
Give your hands a deeply hydrating slather of a good water-based cream or lotion, then slip on a pair of gloves or mitts designed to penetrate the moisture. These can be heated. There are soy-based mitts that can be warmed just for this treatment available in your drug store.
Purchase a small paraffin bath – on your clean hands, apply your moisture cream, then dip your hands into the paraffin bath three times to build up a light coating of the paraffin, then slip your hands into plastic bags to keep the paraffin from getting on everything. Allow the wax to fully cool—by which time the lotion will have penetrated your skin and given a nice hydration treatment. (Note if you share the paraffin bath with others, we suggest dipping out a portion with a small paper cup, rather dipping.)
Rather than listing a product, here are some ingredients to look for. If your hands are dry…they are dehydrated…they need water, not oils. So look for moisturizers with a first ingredient of WATER….not an oil or petroleum-based product.
Other ingredients that will help are: Urea or uric acid – helps bind moisture to the cells in the epidermal layer. Another “binding” agent is hyaluronic acid (HA) which has the miraculous chemistry of being able to bind up to 1000 x its own molecular weight in water.
Also look for exfoliative ingredients such as AHAs – alpha hydroxy acids–good ones are lactic acid or malic acid; or BHAs – beta hydroxy acids such as citric acid or salicylic acid.
You also need an occlusive ingredient to lock it all in place – a botanical-based emollient such as shea butter, coconut oil or any distilled oils that sound like they’d be good on a salad will be good for your skin: safflower oil, avocado oil, wheat germ oil, etc.
Mixing your own products is a shot-gun approach—better to get properly formulated products, avoiding non-essential ingredients such as fragrance, dyes, and unneeded waxes.
The biggest repair you can invoke – is to avoid over-immersion in water and its leaching effects in the first place.