How much attention do you pay to your hands? Be honest. Except for lots of handwashing (thanks to COVID-19), sanitizer and maybe a coat of polish… almost none. Inevitably the day comes when the contrast between your cared-for face and ignored hands makes wearing gloves 24/7 appealing. Don’t despair. Here are 11 ways to pretty-up your paws with some expert advice from Anthony Rossi, a top board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and beauty editor me:
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PHOTO BY: Target (3)
1. Update your hand wash and sanitizer
This duo is the new normal and there’s no way around it. However, small changes to your routine can minimize the drying, redness and irritation that accompanies frequent washing and alcohol application. First, use lukewarm water, not hot, and choose a moisturizing cleanser like Dove Coconut & Almond Milk Nourishing Foaming Hand Wash ($4, target.com) instead of drying antibacterial soaps, and immediately apply hand cream to damp, blotted hands for better absorption. When using a sanitizer, switch to a hydrating spray with aloe like The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray in Grapefruit Grove ($3, target.com) or Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Hand Sanitizer in Basil ($3, target.com). Both meet the CDC recommendation of at least 60 percent isopropyl alcohol, but sprays are neater and less sticky than gels. And last switch: Apply hand cream immediately after the sanitizer dries.
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PHOTO BY: Amazon (4)
2. Make work gloves a must-have
It’s a nuisance but gloves really do protect hands from gritty and waterlogged chores like laundry, dishes, dog- and car washing, cooking, gardening and garage/attic cleanups. The key is finding work gloves that are not too bulky and suit the task. Try the Casabella Premium Waterblock Gloves in Pink ($10, amazon.com), with cuffed, longer sleeves for dishwashing; the Gorilla Grip Premium Silicone Oven Mitts in True Aqua ($16, amazon.com), cotton lined and waterproof with a slip-proof texture for cooking safety; the Forliver Cleaning Sponge Gloves in Blue ($12, amazon.com), with bristles on palms and fingers for messy chores like scrubbing Fido; or the Digz Gardener High Performance Women’s Gardening and Work Gloves With Touch Screen Compatible Fingertips in Blue Leaves Pattern ($12, amazon.com), so you can prune, weed and answer your phone. Do see your GP or dermatologist about any hand rash that doesn’t improve.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty; Target (2)
3. Choose hand cream the way you choose face cream
While fist and elbow bumps have pretty much replaced handshakes, soft, smooth hands still rule. Ingredients and texture matter so don’t grab any old hand cream on sale. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin that attract water for a dewy, plumped look; ceramides or occlusives such as petroleum jelly and cocoa butter to seal the skin barrier, keep hands supple and lock moisture in; and emollients like shea butter, colloidal oatmeal, vitamin E and essential fatty acids to soothe and smooth. Try these three fragrance-free formulas with the right stuff: CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream ($12, ulta.com), Gold Bond Ultimate Eczema Relief Hand Cream ($12, target.com) — great even if you don’t have eczema — and Vaseline Dry Hands Rescue ($5, target.com).
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PHOTO BY: Walgreens; Target (2)
4. Exfoliate hands, too
Make exfoliation part of your strategy — the same as facial skin care. Sloughing off dead surface cells not only freshens and smooths hands but it eases the application and absorption of any topical treatment (including hand cream and sunscreen). But keep it gentle since hand skin at 50 is even thinner than facial skin and has fewer sebaceous glands. One option is to use a micro-fine face cleanser like Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub ($10, walgreens.com), or for a DIY version just add a tablespoon or two of sugar to olive oil to make a paste and softly massage hands. Or try boosting your usual nightly hand cream with a retinol oil like Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula Skin Therapy Oil ($11, target.com) or Pixi Overnight Retinol Oil ($24, target.com) that soothes and exfoliates chemically to help fade spots and roughness. “Retinol applied to backs of hands can improve the photo-aged appearance,” says Rossi. Stay the course; it takes four months for results to show.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty (2); Walgreens; Amazon
5. Treat hands to masks
Specially designated “spa nights” are great but mature hands often benefit from weekly or bimonthly masks to boost hydration. Try ready-made drugstore versions like the Aveeno Repairing Cica Hand Mask with Prebiotic Oat & Shea Butter ($4, ulta.com), Earth Therapeutics Warming Thermal Moisturizing Hand Mask ($8, ulta.com) or simply DIY with an overnight mask. Just apply cuticle oil to nails, slather hands generously with any rich cream or petroleum jelly ointment like Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($10, walgreens.com) and slip on a pair of fresh white cotton manicure gloves like the Gaxcoo White Cotton Gloves for Overnight Moisturizing ($23 for 7 pairs, amazon.com) for a makeover by dawn. If you’re a salon manicure regular, try a paraffin mask. Your hands are dipped in warm wax, which hardens to a shell-like layer, then slipped into heat-retaining mitts for 20 minutes before the cooled wax is cracked off and super-soft hands emerge.
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PHOTO BY: Ulta Beauty (2); Sephora
6. Manage your cuticles
If you pick or bite your cuticles when anxious, cut them with a cuticle nipper or pull/chew at painful hangnails … hands off! Cuticles (the thin ridges of skin that surround each nail) protect nails from bacteria and infection. Pushing them back is the way to keep nails looking groomed, improve polish application and eliminate hangnails. This is easiest when the cuticles are soft and pliable after a bath, shower or nail soak in warm water. First, to soften and loosen cuticles, apply a conditioning oil like CND Solar Oil Nail and Cuticle Conditioner ($13, ulta.com) or Sally Hansen Nail Rehab Oil Cuticle Balm ($10, ulta.com) or a cuticle cream like Deborah Lippmann Exfoliating Cuticle Remover Nail Treatment ($20, sephora.com). Then push using a thumbnail or a cotton-wrapped cuticle stick. And those hangnails? These little strips of torn skin near the cuticle are vulnerable spots. Slather a hangnail with Vaseline or Aquaphor and cover with a bandage until you can neatly snip with nail scissors.
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PHOTO BY: Walgreens; Ulta Beauty; Target (2)
7. Give hands and fingers a long slender look
We all know that dressing in one color makes you appear taller and slimmer. Well, nude nail polish does the same thing for all hands, but especially for wide or short hands and nails. Choose a low-contrast shade that blends with your skin tone. It can be a full-coverage cream or sheer or even have a hint of pink like the Olive & June Nail Polish in GH ($8, target.com), Essie Nail Polish The Wild Nudes Collection in Clothing Optional or Bare With Me ($9, walgreens.com), Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Color in 200 Powder Room ($10, target.com) or the OPI Nail Lacquer in Bubble Bath or Humidi-Tea ($11, ulta.com). Next, address nail shape. In general, rounded nails and ovals slim your hand and fingers, square shapes widen them. Oval or almond-shape nails (the latter has a more tapered tip) suit everyone, are classic and make little gestures elegant. If you have wide/short fingers or hands and prefer the neat look of squares, try a rounded “squoval” (a square-oval hybrid shape) for the best of both looks.
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PHOTO BY: Sephora; Walgreens; Target
8. Choose the right bright polish for mature hands
Wearing bold polish is a great way to focus attention on nails (and stacked or statement rings!) and away from hand discolorations. Though dark purple or indigo polish feels edgy, and blue, green or gray polish look trendy, these may not be your best choices. Hands that are ruddy, with red undertones, should head for fiery oranges and reds like OPI Nail Lacquer in Cajun Shrimp ($8, walgreens.com) or Essie Gel Couture Nail Polish in Rock the Runway ($13, target.com) and avoid blue-reds and wines. Those with blue/purple veins and brown spots also benefit from the warming glow of bright reds or vibrant pinks like the Deborah Lippmann Hyper Vibes Gel Lab Pro Color in Can’t Stop the Feeling! ($20, sephora.com). Base coat is essential with a high-pigment one-coat polish. It’s the best preventive for nail stains since it creates a barrier between the pigment and nail bed.
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PHOTO BY: Dermstore; Target
9. Use a hand-friendly sunscreen every day
UVA rays can target your hands right through car and office windows, even on cloudy, chilly days. “Applying sunscreen to your hands daily is the most important thing to do in preventing further UV-induced sunspots and increased breakdown of dermal support,” says Rossi. Cumulative sun damage shows up as crepey skin, brown spots and (worst-case scenario) skin cancer on the backs of our hands. Choose a formula like the Supergoop! Handscreen SPF 40 ($14, dermstore.com) or Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face & Body Stick SPF 70 ($10, target.com) that blends in with no greasy, oily residue to mess up your keyboard, cellphone or steering wheel. Reapplication during the day is a must-do.
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10. Consider dermatological treatments
As hands age they lose collagen and their natural cushion of fat, so the skin becomes looser and veins and bones look more prominent. It’s all perfectly normal but there are two dermatological solutions that can provide a fix. “Hyaluronic fillers such as Restylane and Juvéderm work effectively on volume loss. Injected into the dorsum [back of your hands] filler plumps up the skin so veins and tendons are less visible, while lasers — pigment, resurfacing or vascular — address the appearance of photo-aged skin, brown spots, and skin cancer. Both treatments require the experience and skill of a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon,” says Rossi. Hand filler and laser cost about $1,500-plus for each procedure, depending on the doctor and location, and last from one to two years. Beam me up!
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PHOTO BY: Target (2); Ulta Beauty (2)
11. Use makeup for special-occasion camouflage
Disguising brown spots and veins with makeup is another solution. Body makeup sure sounds reassuring and does work, but any face makeup that’s waterproof, transfer proof and crease proof can also do the job. Remember when selecting a shade that your hands may be slightly darker in skin tone than your face. Use a damp makeup sponge to apply and blend in foundation like the MAC Studio Radiance Face and Body Radiant Sheer Foundation ($35, ulta.com) or the Milani Conceal + Perfect 2-in-1 Foundation + Concealer ($11, target.com) all over the backs of your hands for an easy overall blurring effect on veins and spots. Or just cover individual brown spots with a waterproof wand-type concealer like the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Full Wear Concealer ($7, target.com) or Tarte Shape Tape Concealer ($29, ulta.com). Use the sponge tip to dot on and tap blend with your finger or a makeup sponge till the edges disappear.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.