After a manicure treatment left her with the worst reaction she’d ever had, Judy Johnson picks the best hand creams for sensitive, irritated skin
On a recent salon visit to have a Shellac manicure, I recoiled in horror as my manicurist started to rub on some hand cream. Yes, it was a little awkward. I quickly apologised and excused myself to go and wash my hands right away, patting them dry with the fluffy towels and hoping, if not praying that history was not about to repeat itself.
Because last year after another such manicure, I wasn’t so careful - blissfully enjoying my treatment, I paid no attention to the cream that went onto my skin other than to relish the softness of my hands. However, something in the cream - most likely synthetic fragrance, since it was strongly perfumed and I tend to react to it - disagreed with me and I had my worst skin reaction in years , a huge, ugly, red, angry rash which spread over the tops of my hands and along my wrists leaving me feeling like a hideous freak of nature for weeks on end. Needless to say, I’ll never let that happen again.
But sensitivity and a weakened skin barrier means my hands do need looking after; in the recent cold snap the skin on the backs of my hands seems to have aged by about 20 years, with dry, cracked knuckles and sore red patches that make it look like I’ve been in the wars, when all I’ve done is commute without gloves (#iPhoneproblems).
So which hand creams are safe for more sensitive skin? I cautiously did some digging and have found the following gems which gave me super soft skin, minus the grease, itch or anger….
Pai Fragonia and Sea Buckthorn Instant Hand Therapy Cream
£16, Buy online
How do you go from uncomfortable to comforted in 60 seconds? By using this certified organic hand cream with sea buckthorn, fragonia and rosehip; it absorbs immediately to leave skin softer and calmer, making chapped knuckles a distant memory. The natural scent is subtle and not at all sickly (even if I could use heavily fragranced hand creams, I wouldn't for this reason) and it lasts and lasts, too.
DHC CoQ10 Hand Cream
£7.50, Buy online
The light, fluid texture of this fragrance-free hand cream reminds me of some of my favourite face serums; it melts into the skin but leaves the surface feeling silkier and looking notably restored. A combination of natural oils, vitamin E, shea butter and a high concentration of the powerful antioxidant, coenzyme Q10, leaves hands hydrated and looking a little more plump and healthy - yet without any residue to give it away. So good in fact that I was pleasantly surprised to see the low price; it’s worth every penny.
Bamford Botanic Hand Cream
£22, Buy online
I was hesitant to try this spa brand for fear of too many essential oils, but this Soil Association-approved organic number was one of my favourites. Despite the richness of its ingredients - shea butter, beeswax and honey - the texture is quite light and easy to apply, sinking in well to leave a gentle sheen and a beautiful uplifting fragrance of chamomile, lavender and tea tree. It also contains arnica, aloe and rosehip oil; a trio of healing heroes for hands and cuticles.
MV Organic Skincare Hand Rescue
£28, Buy online
A far more indulgent find, both in price and in its natural scent which is a real treat for the senses when you’re so used to fragrance-free options, this organic cream is packaged in a pump bottle (a full 120ml so you get your money’s worth). I used this on very chapped and sore hands over the course of a couple of days and saw instant results; the calendula, sandalwood, rosehip oil and benzoin (often used for skin irritations) really worked to soften the skin and restore moisture levels. It takes some time to absorb, but once it does it’s a relief - use overnight for a real skin treat.
Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Concentrated Unscented Hand Cream
£3.69, Buy online
Rich in glycerin yet cheap in price, this cream may not have bells and whistles but the proof is in the healing; a small dab of this concentrated formula soothes away dryness to bring your hands back to health. There’s something very clean and simple about the application, too - even when using it on the palms it negates the sticky feeling that so many creams leave behind. A great handbag hero and one many beauty editors swear by. I cheat and use it as a lip balm too...
A’Kin Unscented Hand, Nail and Cuticle Creme
£12, Buy online
This Australian brand really deserves to be on everyone’s radar; everything I’ve used in the range has been impressive, with attractive packaging and fair prices to boot. Their hand cream in the unscented range is no exception; a thick, organic shea butter-based soother, it contains glycerin, chamomile, jojoba oil, avocado oil and vitamins B and E to really nourish the skin. Though rich, it spreads easily and massages into the skin without leaving any greasy residue behind, and it truly is scent-free, making it ideal for even the most sensitive of skin.
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Hands
£6.50, Buy online
Even if it weren’t for the fact that the texture of this clear, serum-like cream is a pleasure to use, the science behind it would convince you to keep it up. The ingredients list reads like a derm’s dream; a glycerin and shea butter base, with a 4% concentration of niacinamide, a great anti-ager and skin barrier-booster which also has an antihistamine effect to soothe inflammation, shows this hand cream means business. It’s almost balmy, yet sinks in easily and isn’t sticky or greasy - and all that for the cost of a Pret lunch. The focus here is on repair as well as protection; excellent value and a lifesaver for sore hands.
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Skin Protectant Cream Fragrance Free
£27, Buy online
I’ll be honest, this one took me some time to get used to. The fragrance-free version of the cult backstage beauty favourite does have a bit of a whiff to it (it reminded me of Carmex lip balm) and has a very rich, thick, balmy texture; think Vaseline with a touch of oil. It is mineral oil based, but these more basic ingredients have a place when it comes to hand creams; they help to form a barrier against the cold, and this formula in particular makes it an ideal multitasker for everything from lips to elbows. It does feel a little greasy at first, but soon melts in (if your skin is as dry as mine) and is great for tough cuticles too.
Green People Neutral Scent Free Hand & Body Lotion
£18, Buy online
This lotion is a guaranteed people pleaser, no matter what your skin type. At £18 for a 150ml pump bottle, it's good value for money, but most importantly the formula is instantly soothing. With no fragrance, it contains glycerin, shea butter, and squalane, as well as chamomile, marshmallow and rosemary extracts, and as a lotion rather than a cream it’s ideal for everyday use to hydrate hands and limbs.
£4.99, Buy online
Not strictly a hand cream, but that’s what I tend to use Cetraben for, as well as patches of eczema and inexplicably dry elbows. It’s another cheap option that suits those with eczema-prone or severely dry skin; it has a light liquid paraffin base to create a barrier from the harsher weather as well as glycerin to help restore moisture. It’s available in a lotion too, but I prefer the cream to really give dry skin the boot.
What are your favourite hand creams for sensitive skin? Let me know in the comments!