Three steps to keep hands and feet healthy during cold weather

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 30, 2012

(BPT) – Cold weather can be tough on skin, particularly on the hands and feet. A decrease in humidity paired with harsh temperatures can make hands and feet dry, cracked, achy and susceptible to infection. It’s important to take some simple steps to protect extremities so they remain healthy all season long.

Step one: Moisturize to prevent infection

Cold weather brings with it cold and flu season, and we all tend to wash our hands frequently, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby, and take hot showers to stay clean and warm. These activities can make skin extremely dry, which can cause cracking on both the hands and feet. Because your skin is the first line of defense against infection, it’s important to take steps to prevent cracks and keep hands and feet healthy and moisturized.

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Rather than grabbing a fragrance-filled, frilly “moisturizer,” that sometimes actually further dries skin out, look for a lotion that contains water, glycerin and allantoin. Glycerin helps pull moisture in, while allantoin helps break down the rough barrier allowing the water to seep into skin. These ingredients help skin to heal itself. It may come as a surprise that some of the best moisturizers aren’t found in the beauty aisle, but rather in the health aisle, or even at home improvement stores. Men who work with their hands have used O’Keeffe’s Working Hands and O’Keeffe’s for Healthy Feet moisturizers for years, and because of its effectiveness, women are also taking notice.

A pharmacist developed O’Keeffe’s non-oil based formula to stimulate the skin’s natural healing process by attracting and retaining moisture to hydrate the skin, altering pH levels, increasing blood circulation and retaining moisture. Try moisturizing before bed because during sleep skin temperature rises, resulting in increased circulation which aids in the healing and cell regenerative process.

Step two: Protection from the elements

Cold weather is a major threat to hand and foot health, which is why it’s crucial to take steps to protect them from the elements. Going outside, even for a quick drive, can mean facing exposure to wicked winds, freezing rain and even snow. Using protective gear helps keep hands and feet healthy.

Start with a good pair of boots that keep feet comfortably warm. Be sure the boots are waterproof to resist rain and snow. A good sole with a thick tread helps to grip slick surfaces. Make a habit of wearing boots outdoors even when not partaking in outdoor activities. For example, it’s wise to wear boots during your morning commute to work and then change into your dress shoes when you arrive at the office. On particularly cold or wet days, consider wearing several pairs of socks to keep feet warm and dry. Cotton and wool are good sock materials during cold months because they insulate feet while helping to wick away moisture.

For hands, always wear gloves or mittens when outside, even for brief periods. Gloves and mittens provide extra layers of protection.

Step three: Understand frost bite

When exposed to very cold temperatures, skin can suffer from frost bite, when the moisture present in skin cells and tissues freezes. Even when wearing thick boots and warm gloves, it’s important to understand the warning signs of frost bite, especially when exposed to outdoor temperatures for extended periods of time. There are varying levels of frost bite and it can happen quickly, especially if skin is directly exposed to freezing temperatures.

Frost bite symptoms include numbness, pins and needles sensations, hard, pale skin when cold and red, painful or blistered skin after it’s warmed. Frost bite can affect any part of the body, but the hands and feet are particularly vulnerable. If frost bite is suspected, never put hands or feet in hot water, always use warm water (104 to 107.6 F according to to gradually warm skin. If numbness or pain continues, call a doctor immediately for treatment.