After the last two-plus years, more of us are more acutely aware of our hands than ever. Reciting “Happy Birthday” while soaping up at the sink multiple times a day provides plenty of opportunities to observe the fine lines and age spots that may have surfaced over the past few years. The same goes for dutiful sanitizing with alcohol-heavy gels and sprays that wipe out germs — and subsequently strip skin of necessary moisture.
Despite the fact that many of us have upped our handwashing game, replenishing and nourishing this especially thin skin often remains an afterthought. At best, the backs of hands receive the complexion’s cast-offs, like the remnants of an overzealous pump of pricey serum. Or, if you’re feeling particularly parched, a quick layer of hand cream before bed. There is good reason, however, to spread the skin care wealth past your wrists: Even with a youthful face, hands give away your age, says Dr. Ellen Marmur, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Marmur Medical.
Given how much they do for us on the daily, it's not exactly surprising that hands are one of the first areas of the body to show the signs of time. “They are constantly exposed to environmental aggressors and sun, which can lead to cellular damage like sun spots and hyperpigmentation,” says double board-certified dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades, MD, PhD, and founder of Macrene Actives. “Being in constant use also makes them prone to fine lines and wrinkle formation, while rigorous washing can create dryness, dullness, and uneven texture.”
Hydrate Your Hands
Hands lack sebaceous follicles that secrete natural oils, explains Dr. Alexiades, making it essential to supply skin with a steady stream of moisture. Consider swapping your standard hand wash for a milk-like cleanser that’s less stripping, says Dr. Alan Parks, a board-certified dermatologist in Columbus, Ohio, and founder of DermWarehouse.
Post-rinse, hydrate with a nourishing hand cream and opt for low-alcohol sanitizers that are gentler on skin (like those from Olika and Seed Phytonutrients which are infused with soothing aloe vera and glycerin).
For a more intense treatment after hours, apply a hyaluronic acid serum to damp skin and seal it in with an occlusive moisturizer like Vaseline or Aquaphor — a technique derms have recommended for decades but TikTokers have recently rebranded as “slugging.” Use cotton gloves during this process to avoid staining sheets and clothes. “[This method] can be effective but don't overdo it because it can cause a yeast infection in moist skin, especially around the cuticles,” warns Dr. Marmur.
Brighten The Skin
Whether you’re driving, exercising outdoors, or working in close proximity to a window, your hands take a substantial hit from the sun. In addition to skin cancer, UV rays are responsible for a host of cosmetic concerns, including accelerated aging, brown spots, prominent veins, hyperlinearity (a thickening of the skin on the palms), and a loss of elasticity and underlying connective tissue (which causes crepey skin), says Dr. Sumayah Jamal, a board-certified dermatologist, MD, PhD, and director of the Skin of Color Specialty Clinic at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
Short of wearing gloves 24/7, routinely slathering hands with sunscreen (just as you would your face) is the next best thing. At night, layering a free radical-fighting antioxidant serum underneath a moisturizer containing skin-sloughing alpha hydroxy acids (like lactic and glycolic acids) is a one-two punch that can “help fade dark spots to a certain extent,” says Dr. Jamal. Building niacinamide into your hand care regimen is also beneficial, adds Dr. Marmur of the brightening and barrier-boosting ingredient.
For more severe discoloration, seek assistance from a licensed pro. Sarah Akram, a master esthetician based in Alexandria, Virginia, likes to perform microdermabrasion on the backs of hands to combat hyperpigmentation. IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is also an effective option, especially when used in tandem with the aforementioned topical treatments. Dr. Jamal’s go-to device is the Sciton BBL, which delivers visible results in one to three sessions. Expect spots to get darker before they flake away and reveal more even-looking skin. She notes that IPL can be used on melanin-rich skin but warns that the “filters and settings are very different” and should be “performed with caution” by someone experienced in treating deeper complexions.
Dr. Alexiades often uses Enlighten by Cutera, which delivers “picosecond pulses” to tackle unwanted pigmentation, as well as the Nordlys by Candela that “offers two different fractional wavelengths plus IPL.” The catch with any costly therapy, however, is that sun exposure can reverse the results. Protect your investment with plenty of SPF.
Tighten & Plump
Similar to the face, hands lose fat and collagen with age resulting in wrinkles and crepey skin. For immediate gratification, Dr. Parks says hyaluronic acid and ceramides offer intense hydration and a temporary plumping effect. For a longer-term solution that stimulates collagen production and speeds up cell turnover, reach for retinol. “It’s best to start off with a low percentage such as .25, and if tolerated well, you can increase the strength to .5,” adds Dr. Parks. (Try Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Pro+ .5% Power Serum.) LED light therapy, which Akram incorporates into all of her treatments by way of the Omnilux Contour Glove, can also help turn back the hands of time at home. “Red light is amazing for the cell renewal process…it actually helps reverse the signs of aging by [stimulating] collagen and improving elasticity,” she says.
If DIY treatments aren’t cutting it, a fractionated resurfacing laser is a solid option for smoothing fine lines and minimizing crepiness. Dr. Jamal likes the Sciton Halo Laser, which is safe to use across multiple skin types and doesn’t require any real downtime. She says most patients experience “slight redness for a few days followed by a sandpaper-like peeling” after treatment. A minimum of three sessions is usually required to see a noticeable improvement.
Dr. Alexiades says radiofrequency microneedling devices, like the Candela Profound (which she helped develop over the past 15 years), can also decrease the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin by generating collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. For most patients, one to two sessions a month or so apart is recommended. “You start to see results at two weeks and continue to improve [for up to] one year,” she says of the skin-tightening treatment.
You can blame heat, exercise, and lower body fat for bulging veins, but sun exposure and age — both of which cause collagen to deteriorate — are two of the most common culprits, says Dr. Alexiades. While sunscreen may be the ultimate preventative treatment, topical ingredients such as mushroom extract, red algae, resveratrol, and plant polyphenols and sterols can help strengthen thinning skin.
However, the fastest way to boost volume and hide prominent veins is with a hyaluronic acid filler like Restylane Lyft, Juvéderm, or RHA. Dr. Marmur says the results can last between one and three years, but anticipate some swelling and bruising for up to a week after a treatment. For a more permanent solution, Dr. Alexiades recommends sclerotherapy, which involves injecting a solution that causes veins to collapse.
Other options to consider: a vascular laser, fractional laser resurfacing, and intense pulsed light [IPL] to increase collagen levels and constrict blood vessels. For large veins, Dr. Alexiades often uses a long-pulsed Nd: YAG laser (her favorite being the Excel V by Cutera). She warns that this treatment can be “a bit uncomfortable” but it usually shrinks veins in one to two treatments.
Sun exposure, chemicals, and age can all lead to discolored or brittle nails, says Dr. Parks, who likes Elon Lanolin-Rich Nail Conditioner to prevent peeling and cracking. Another convenient (and very chic) option you’ll be proud to pull out on the go: Chanel L’Huile Camélia Hydrating and Fortifying Oil, which features a beveled applicator that can be used to push back cuticles. In addition to flooding fingertips with moisture, be sure to hydrate the knuckle area near the nail bed. Beneath the skin lies the nail matrix, which is responsible for healthy nail growth, explains Dr. Marmur. The ultimate finishing touch is always a flawless manicure. Try the new Nail Brightener from Olive & June that combats stains with lemon extract and leaves nails with a pearly, glazed-donut-level gleam.
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