This Old-School Hack For Soft Hands Is Still The Best Around

These days, it would surprise no one to hear you’re slathering yourself with asparagus extract balm and snail snot serum before bed every night. But no matter how committed you are to the latest and greatest in beauty trends, sometimes the best routines take a cue from old-school tricks of yore.

For example, if you ever wondered why your grandma’s hands always seemed so soft, it was probably from donning a pair of white cotton gloves every night — not because she needed to be ready for a 2 a.m. tea party, but because she wore fancy creams under the gloves, letting her skin absorb them completely.

We spoke to dermatologists about how and why this routine works, and how to make it work in the 21st century.

FYI, the skin on your hands needs extra care

Your hands can take a beating from weather, regular washing and the frequent use of hand sanitizers. If you have a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis or allergic contact dermatitis, they can become especially dry.

It turns out that your hands don’t have much to protect them, unlike other body parts. “The major contributing factor to the hands drying out so easily is the lack of sebaceous glands,” said Dr. Regine Mathieu, a dermatologist. “The sebaceous glands produce a substance called sebum, an oily substance that lubricates the skin and helps it to retain moisture.”

“So, the palms of your hands are already susceptible to lack of lubrication,” Mathieu explained. “Once you add in different environmental factors that strip moisture from the skin, they’re even more susceptible [to] dryness.”

Why the cotton glove method works

The cotton glove method beloved by grannies is also one that dermatologists still recommend. “Treating the hands overnight is a great option, because it allows you to soften the skin when you’re not using your hands,” explained dermatologist Dr. Josh Zeichner.

“It helps to maximize the effectiveness of moisturizers or emollients to deeply hydrate and repair the skin barrier,” said dermatologist Dr. Lauren Penzi. “Gloves help the emollient to stay on, and wearing them overnight helps to drive the moisturizer deeper into the skin.”

“Wearing gloves overnight is one of the most effective ways to boost hydration and support the skin barrier,” said dermatologist Dr. Carolyn Stull. “This can be a helpful technique for those with skin conditions like eczema, as well as for people looking to boost skin hydration and softness.”

And there’s a bonus: Your cuticles will love this, too. As dermatologist Dr. Brendan Camp pointed out, “you’ll also be keeping your cuticles moisturized, which prevents the formation of hangnails, which are really just bits of dried-out cuticles that peel back from the skin around your fingers.”

Not just any gloves will do

There are two things you’ll absolutely need: gloves and a good moisturizer.

First, let’s talk gloves. Plain white cotton ones, like these, are just fine. In fact, they may be better than their fancier counterparts. “There are many products on the market advertised as ‘moisturizing gloves,’” Mathieu noted. “I would caution patients to make sure that they’re reading labels for ingredients, to make sure there are no irritants in them.”

Plain cotton gloves are best.

annick vanderschelden photography via Getty Images

Plain cotton gloves are best.

“You don’t necessarily need special gloves, but it’s important to use cotton gloves that are comfortable to wear throughout the night,” said dermatologist Dr. Hope Mitchell. Whatever you use, don’t keep using the same pair over and over — they need an occasional run through the washer, please. “Dirty gloves could introduce bacteria and potentially lead to irritation or infection,” Mitchell said.

Not digging the cotton vibe? “You can use a nitrile glove to provide even more occlusion, but a cotton glove is best for sensitive skin,” advised dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose.

If you (or your sheets) don’t appreciate occasional goop smears, you can always add a protective layer. “I generally recommend a non-latex glove on top of the cotton one, since the cotton often becomes saturated with the moisturizer and may become sticky,” Zeichner said.

Now, for the moisturizers

You’ll need to use a heavy moisturizer, experts agreed. “Opt for a thick, hydrating formula that contains ingredients known to moisturize and repair the skin barrier,” Mitchell said. Ingredients to look for include petrolatum, petroleum jelly, shea butter, glycerin, ceramides and hyaluronic acid. “Ultimately, choose a cream that suits your skin type and preferences,” she said.

“I like Lanolips 101 ointment,” Zeichner said. “It’s made of naturally derived lanolin, the same ingredient that makes sheeps’ wool waterproof.” Another favorite of many of the dermatologists we interviewed was Eucerin Advanced Repair Hand Cream.

How to apply it to your hands

The application process is fairly straightforward, according to Camp. “Soak your hands in lukewarm water for two to three minutes, which saturates the top layer of skin with water,” he said. “Pat your hands dry and apply a thick moisturizing ointment.”

“Then put on your gloves, which will improve the penetration of the moisturizer into your skin, keep the moisturizer in place longer, limit the loss of water from the skin, and prevent you from spreading the greasy moisturizer all over your sheets,” he said.

A few cautions

As great as this method can be to improve the condition of your hands, there are some caveats to keep in mind.

“Be sure to use products that are non-irritating and that you aren’t allergic to,” Murphy-Rose said. “It’s always wise to perform a spot test before using a product overnight under occlusion, which refers to the process of covering skin with things like tape, gloves or impermeable dressings.”

“Don’t get cavalier and try this with a retinol or retinoid,” Camp said. “When applied under occlusion, retinols and retinoids can cause more side effects, like skin irritation, redness, peeling and stinging.”

Zeichner advised: “For people with a history of skin allergies, I recommend sticking to fragrance-free moisturizers.”

As always, your dermatologist knows best. If you have any underlying skin conditions, talk to them first. “If you’re experiencing chronic dry hands, especially if there’s cracking, it’s important to visit a dermatologist for the correct diagnosis,” Mathieu said.

HuffPost and its publishing partners may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change. The experts consulted for this story do not necessarily endorse the products unless otherwise noted.

Speaking of retinol hand creams: While you shouldn’t use them under gloves, they can still work wonders on your skin, and they’re wildly popular. Try these picks out.

Soft Services

Soft Services Theraplush overnight repair treatment

This is the one everyone’s talking about. Not only is this night cream for hands formulated with top-notch anti-aging ingredients, but it comes in the cutest reusable vessel I’ve ever seen. It’s a great option for anyone who is serious about repairing and renewing their hands. The cream has a medium-weight density that is soft and slightly waxy, so those who are prone to touching their face or don’t like the feeling of freshly lotioned skin might not love it. But if you don’t mind it, then your hands will thank you in the long run. It’s infused with retinol, colloidal oatmeal and panthenol so you can wake up with youthful, beautiful hands daily.

Promising review: “In love with this product! I’ve only been using this product for a few weeks and see a difference already. I’m 60 years old and produce food videos so I’m very conscious of the appearance of my ‘mature’ hands. Theraplush has absolutely enhanced the overall smoothness and texture; so impressed with this lovely cream!I would recommend this product to: Anyone who is aware of the importance of taking extra care of their hands!” — Sheri

Beauty Pie

Beauty Pie Super Retinol Hands anti-aging moisture cream

Get all the benefits of a deeply moisturizing, rich hand cream with the added power of encapsulated retinol with this Beauty Pie cream. It can help with common signs of hand aging, targeting dark spots, smoothing and elasticity. Throw it on before bed and wake up to baby-soft hands.

Promising review: “A must for older hands. Wonderful night time hand treatment for aged hands. Helps with age spots and crepey skin. Also very moisturising without being sticky.” — Mary


Nécessaire The Hand Retinol

For a fairly high concentration of retinol, consider this hand serum from Nécessaire. it has 0.25% of retinol alongside peptides, AHAs, amino acids, vitamins and glycerin to hydrate deeply. It’s a great option for anyone looking to treat or prevent crepey skin, dark spots, scars and even ragged cuticles. You’ll feel like you just stepped out of a nail salon every morning.

Promising review: “Absolute wonder! I bought this based on a dermatologist’s recommendation, and it really delivers! After a very short time my hands look and feel so much better! I was starting to notice my hands were looking older, and this has really helped.” — ROinCo


Chantecaille Retinol hand cream

If you want something a little less intense than an overnight treatment, try this luxurious hand cream that can be used regularly throughout the day. It’s made with retinol and Chilean tree bark extract alongside antioxidants and other hydrating ingredients, so you get all the benefits of a retinol, but it’s gentle enough to use regularly.

Promising review: “Best hand cream ever!I’ve tried every hand cream under the sun and this one is the best by far. My hands were looking very old and wrinkly one winter so I bought this and literally overnight I had hands that looked 20 years younger. The difference was incredible! The thing that impresses me the most is it’s effectiveness, but it’s also feels very nice to use. It goes on light — not greasy at all. it’s very quickly absorbed but you still feel like your hands are soft so there is no need to keep reapplying all day like with other hand creams. I use it once in the morning and once at night and that’s enough. It’s pricey but lasts a long time because you don’t need to use a lot of it — 1 tube lasts me all winter.” — Productjunkie1


A multifunctional retinol and vitamin-enriched hand cream

The glowing reviews speak for themselves when it comes to this anti-aging hand cream. It deeply conditions not just hands, but nails and cuticles as well, drenching the entire area with vitamins and retinol. It boasts a rich and creamy formula that feels luxurious but won’t break the bank, so you can show off youthful-looking skin with minimal effort. Just be aware that it has a nostalgic scent that might not be for everyone!

Promising review: “I like the moisture and lively texture of my hands. Before they looked dry and older because of all the hand sanitizer I have used over the last 3 years. Now they look healthy and feels so soft, and I don’t mind shaking hands if needed.” — Nene Love it

“I really like this hand lotion. I am 36 and a hairdresser so my hands get a beating daily. I’ve noticed them aging so I wanted something to help slow that. This lotion feels very soft when you put it on. My kids did comment that it smells like a Grandma. And I think it kind of does smell like it too. Not a bad smell just does have a distinctive smell. I do like it!” — Karen


Robanda Retinol Anti-Aging hand treatment SPF 15

I came upon this Robanda retinol hand cream during my research and was intrigued by the fact that it contains SPF alongside retinol. Along with antioxidants, it helps to infuse the skin with anti-aging ingredients and can improve the look of wrinkles and sun damage while leaving skin healthy, smooth and safe from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Promising reviews: “Love the creme. Daughter asked to try it and as she was going back home to CT, called for the exact name and a picture. She loved it also. Works good on old hands. Of course mine are a lot older than hers.” — Aging

“I have a stress eczema on my hands. This cream healed my hands in 3(!) days! Now I recommend it to everyone! And use the crème on daily basis.” — Oyuka


NatureWell Clinical Retinol Advanced moisture cream

NatureWell uses advanced micro-encapsulated retinol to help improve skin tone, smoothing texture and boosting firmness and elasticity. The pump dispenser delivers the right amount so you don’t worry about wasting product, and helps to lengthen the cream’s product life. It’s incredibly popular on Amazon, boasting 4.5 out of 5 stars and over 12,100 ratings. It’s also the most affordable option on this list and the most versatile, as it can be used on hands, face and body. It’s just rich enough to use all over without feeling too greasy, though reviewers find it’s great for hands and arms.

Promising review: “Nice smell works well on lighting the spot on my hands and a couple of spots on my face.” — Kathleen K. Goodman

“Reduces crepey skin. For 1 week I only put it on my left arm and after a week you can see the difference. The left arm looks so much better and is so much softer than the right.” — Debi V.


Gold Bond Age Renew Retinol Overnight

Lock in that anti-aging and hydrating goodness with this ultra-moisturizing overnight cream from Gold Bond. The retinol-peptide complex can help to lift, tighten and moisturize skin without leaving you feeling greasy or with the irritation that can commonly accompany retinol usage. Pop it on your hands (and beyond) and start to see and feel the difference. While not explicitly a hand cream, reviewers noted that it is just the right texture for hands and leaves their hands looking and feeling as good as new.

Promising review: “It’s light and smooth, very comfortable and nonirritating. I use it mostly on my hands and neck. It feels light and very comfortable and it has no scent which is great for those who are sensitive to that. For the price and the amount you get for a body lotion that have great ingredients including retinol and vitamins i say its worth the try and see how much improvement it gives to the look of your hands and/or neck. I havent used it on my other parts of my body since im using a diff product with retinol on my face. They also ship it with tape on the opening so it wouldnt spill out which is great.” — Emie

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