For several years I have suffered from very dry skin on my hands during the later months of winter, roughly between late January and early April. The worst affected areas of skin are between my fingers, on my knuckles and on my finger joints, which become so dry and chapped that the skin sometimes cracks and starts to bleed. The condition is exacerbated by any prolonged manual work such as lifting boxes, moving furniture, etc., after which it can look as if I have been dragging my hands through a rose bush. The little internet research I have done suggests that the problem can be caused by a combination of factors including genetics (a couple of my brothers experience similar problems), the lack of humidity in the air when the weather is colder, frequent hand washing in hot water and a tendency to do less physical activity in winter.
If I am honest I have never found the condition to be particularly debilitating; it affects only my hands, it always clears up by itself as the weather warms up in the spring and because it usually lasts only a few months I have always just put up with it. However, the interminable Narnian winters of recent years in the UK have served to prolong the natural healing process and there have been times when I have felt embarrassed about shaking people’s hands after mine have been bleeding. It can also be quite uncomfortable putting on gloves when the weather is very cold because I have what feels like a series of paper cuts on my fingers where the skin is cracked.
One day last month my hands were in a particularly dry and bloody state after spending most of the day dismantling IT equipment and packing crates in readiness for an office relocation. As luck would have it I ran into Piyali later in the day and, aware of her skincare expertise, I took the opportunity to ask for her advice on whether there was anything I could do to improve the condition of the skin on my hands and to prevent them from bleeding. She asked me if I had ever been to see my GP about the problem and if I used any moisturiser on my hands. Predictably my answer was “No” to both questions (unless we are counting tap water as a moisturiser, which I don’t think we are). Undeterred by my hopelessly passive approach to my own well-being, Piyali immediately recommended a product called Aveeno and let me know where I could get hold of it.
So it was the next day that I found myself venturing into the terra incognita of the skincare aisle in Boots, searching for a skincare product for myself for the first time in my life. There were two or three different products on sale featuring the Aveeno name, including one with a dark blue label for very dry, sensitive and chapped hands and one with a green label called Daily Moisturising Hand Cream for dry skin. Hmm. Is my skin very dry or just dry? Is there anyone in Boots I can ask? And why doesn’t the Boots logo have an apostrophe before the letter s like Sainsbury’s does? Not known for my decisiveness, I eventually plumped for the one with the dark blue label called Skin Relief Restoring Hand Cream, reasoning that I might as well try the more potent stuff because if that did not work I could also rule out the regular one. I had a quick look at the ingredients to see that it contained ‘triple oat complex’. It appears that the humble oat (Latin name Avena sativa) has been used for centuries to relieve skin problems, as it is rich in B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
As soon as I got home I applied the cream to my hands and was pleasantly surprised at just how much better they looked and felt after just one application. The odourless cream was absorbed quickly and immediately disguised the white patches between my fingers where my skin was particularly dry. Since then I have been applying it every day and am amazed at how rapid and noticeable the improvement has been. The skin on my hands even withstood the sub-zero temperatures of the recent cold snap without any bleeding.
I am so grateful to Piyali for recommending this brilliant and inexpensive product to me. There must be lots of other people with ‘seasonal’ skin problems like mine who never bother to seek treatment or ask for advice. I hope my experience shows how silly this is and how easily many such problems can be improved or more effectively managed with the right advice from the right people.