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My hands are dry like the Sahara. Maybe that's an exaggeration but I've tried more or less everything to get rid of the thirsty and often painfully chapped skin that comes with cold weather, excessive washing (thanks, COVID) and general day-to-day activities. I've bought hand masks (not that great), slathered on expensive hand serums (to no avail) and probed dermatologists on their all-time-favourite hand creams. Some products have worked well for a while but I never seem to give my hand-care routine as much attention as my AM-PM face care ritual.
Spring may have officially sprung but the cold is refusing to let up. Just last week, parts of the UK experienced bouts of snow and with the chilly spell set to continue, our hands are at the mercy of the miserable weather. According to Google trends, searches for hand creams for dry hands and lotion for cracked hands have risen by 140% and 300% respectively in the past week. It makes sense, then, that the majority of TikTok's trending beauty hacks this month are geared towards managing parched skin.
There are a couple of different methods but the most viewed video was posted by TikToker Sarah Palmyra. In the clip, she applies The Inkey List's Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $12, to damp hands and follows with The Chemistry Brand's Hand Chemistry, $35. Sarah follows these products with a heavy helping of Vaseline Original Petroleum Jelly, $4.49, and covers her hands with old socks overnight. In the morning, her hands look soft, supple and hydrated. It wasn't long before Sarah's followers took to the comments to show their appreciation. "Omg thank you!! I wash my hands so much and already have eczema, I'm so insecure about it!!" commented one. Another wrote: "Have been doing this for years. I have severe eczema and a hand washing habit thanks to my OCD."
Other viral TikTokers like @jessie_loft claim that you can practise hand slugging using an exfoliating acid (such as lactic or glycolic acid) to chip away at dry skin, followed by a thick coating of petroleum jelly. Does either of these hacks really work on dry hands? First, I had to put them to an expert.
"Slugging in general is a good short-term solution to boost your hydration levels," explains Dr Ana, cosmetic doctor and skin expert. "It works by applying hydrating serums or moisturising creams and subsequently locking in this moisture overnight using an occlusive agent (creates a barrier) such as Vaseline. This can indeed be effectively used on the hands or feet and tends to make the upper layer of the skin smoother, plumper and softer. In turn, it looks and feels better hydrated."
Dr Ana warns that occlusive moisturisers like petroleum jelly should not be applied on top of active ingredients like acids or retinoids — and avoided entirely if your skin is chapped or cracked. "Exfoliating acids should be avoided on skin that is already sensitised or suffers from compromised skin barrier function," she tells me. "I'd advise avoiding these types of active ingredients altogether and slugging on top of exfoliating acids is a big no-no in my opinion. Any occlusives layered with exfoliating ingredients will essentially increase the potency of their exfoliating effect, inadvertently causing an unpredictable level of penetration and intense exfoliation on the skin." Ouch.
With that in mind, I swerved Jessie's hack and copied Sarah's instead. If you're into skincare, chances are you have these products lying around at home already. On damp hands, I applied a couple of drops of Alpha-H Hyaluronic 8 Serum, $79.95, which I use on my face every morning and evening. I've never met a hyaluronic acid serum I didn't like so if you'd rather spend less, try The Ordinary's Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, $23.10. Equally, go for Sarah's very affordable option.
I immediately reached for my hand cream and, once that was absorbed, smothered my hands with Vaseline and slipped them into a pair of old socks. For obvious reasons, it's best to try hand slugging just before you get into bed (and hope that you don't need to use the loo in the middle of the night). As you might expect, falling asleep with my hands in socks was a little uncomfortable as I was really aware of it. But it wasn't a problem when I finally managed to drift off. When I woke up, I was excited to unveil my brand-new hands.
Before, my hands looked dry and deflated — the skin so rough and dehydrated, it wouldn't bounce back when I gave it a pinch. I can't deny that hand slugging has made the skin on the back of my hands a lot more supple and soft to the touch. It also helped with my wrinkly fingers. It's no magic wand, though: I'm a picker and my cuticles still looked a bit worse for wear. If your hands are chapped, slugging won't heal them overnight. It's also likely that the results will be relatively short-lived. I made a plan to factor hand slugging into my weekly routine for three alternate nights and found that consistency is key. One go won't transform dry skin but after three nights I noticed an impressive difference (and eventually got used to sock hands).
Before you try hand slugging, heed Dr Ana's advice. "Vaseline is an occlusive agent and doesn't moisturise the skin on its own." It's best teamed with products that are packed with moisturising and hydrating skincare ingredients, like ceramides, hyaluronic acid and glycerin. "Petroleum jelly is best used as a protective layer against environmental stressors directly on chapped skin, however it is also very helpful when applied on top of hydrating serums or moisturising creams to prevent water loss," Dr Ana confirms. Like Sarah, she suggests always applying hyaluronic acid-based products on damp skin. "Hyaluronic acid will draw the moisture into the upper layers of the skin like a sponge. Layering Vaseline on top will lock in this moisture and block the water content from evaporating."
In between hand slugging, TikToker Sarah recommends using SPF on your hands to protect them from damaging UV rays. Whether you incorporate that step into your hand-care routine is up to you but it pays to snap up an excellent hand cream. If your skin is prone to chapping, look for a fragrance-free product like Aveeno's Daily Moisturising Hand Cream, $4.99, which absorbs in next to no time and breathes life back into rough, dry hands.
Will I keep up with the hand slugging? I can be lazy when it comes to body care so probably not consistently. But it's a great quick fix for dry hands — come rain or shine.