The best (and worst) hand creams for dry, cracked hands

WATCH: The ingredients to look for when buying hand cream

By now, your hands have probably felt the full effects of a Canadian winter.

Dry, itchy and flaky skin is common during colder months, and it can be even worse for people with pre-existing conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

That’s why, according to Toronto board-certified dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll, using the right hand cream is key.

READ MORE: The best mascaras on the market, from drug store to luxury brands

When buying a hand cream, look for “a combination of emollient and occlusive,” Carroll told Global News. “These act as a physical barrier to prevent water loss.”

These agents have two noteworthy qualities: they prevent external factors (like water from hand washing) from drying your skin and they keep locked in the moisture your skin has already.

Lanolin, mineral oil and silicone are examples of occlusives, and emollients are ingredients like plant oils, mineral oils and shea and cocoa butter.

READ MORE: The best (and worst) lip balms to combat the harsh weather of winter

Humectants, like glycerin, honey and aloe vera, are also helpful for keeping your skin at maximum moisture.

During testing, a few Global News reporters found the creams they were assigned to be quite greasy. While it may not be the best for using a keyboard, Carroll said greasiness could actually suggest the product has a good combination of these ingredients.

“People need to play around with the formula … to find what works better for their skin,” she said. “Some people put too much product. You don’t need a lot.”

Reporters at Global News tried out some of the best and organized them by price: $10 and under, $20 and under and $20 or more.

$10 and under

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Name of product: O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Cream
Retail price: $9.99
Available at: A variety of retailers
Product specialty: For extremely dry, cracked hands
First thoughts: This cream looks and feels almost like a balm when you take it out of the container. You definitely only need to use a small amount because the product spreads a lot. It doesn’t absorb quickly, so your hands might feel a little greasy for a few minutes.
End-of-the-day test: My hands felt extremely soft, and I didn’t have to reapply a lot. It was also unscented, which was surprising.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? I would recommend this hand cream for the winter because it leaves your hands feeling very moisturized and soft without a lingering scent. You don’t have to use a lot of the hand cream to make a difference, which could make this a good investment for the winter.
Score out of 5: 4 — Katie Scott

Name of product: Glysomed Hand Cream
Retail price: $7
Available at: A variety of retailers
Product specialty: Combines glycerine with chamomile and silicone to lock in moisture
First thoughts: I don’t like anything about this cream. The smell is clinical, and the texture does not work for my skin type. It’s way too greasy and it never feels fully rubbed into my hands.
End-of-the-day test: Because of how oily I found this product — it got everywhere — I was wiping my hands a lot. They felt the same at the end of the day as they did at the beginning of the day.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? I don’t think I would recommend this product if you, like me, have relatively normal dry skin during the winter. However, it might be more effective for people with severely dry skin.
Score out of 5: 2 — Meghan Collie

Name of product: Eucerin Aquaphor Healing Ointment
Retail price: $9.47
Available at: A variety of retailers
Product specialty: For extremely dry, cracked, chafed or damaged skin
First thoughts: It’s clear that this product is for extremely damaged skin. Its consistency is similar to Vaseline. I made the mistake of trying it as a hand cream while at work, and it ended up all over my keyboard.
End-of-the-day test: My hands were definitely protected from the winter elements, but they were greasy.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? Yes, this is an effective ointment for winter, but use it at home as a nighttime cream. Otherwise, it’s likely to get on your clothes and anything else you touch. You can also use it as a lip balm during the day.
Score out of 5: 4.5 — For doing exactly what it’s supposed to but for not being really usable during the day — Olivia Bowden

Name of product: Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion
Retail price: $8.48
Available at: A variety of retailers
Product specialty: Non-greasy, unscented moisturizer
First thoughts: It certainly does its job but makes a big deal out of being a non-greasy moisturizer despite it actually feeling a bit greasy — even with just a small amount applied.
End-of-the-day test: My hands feel the same as they were before. You might have to apply this one every few hours for maximum effect.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? No, simply for the reason that you can probably get a better one, and though it says it’s unscented, it smells a wee bit like sunscreen.
Score out of 5: 3.5 — Reliable brand name? Sure, but you could do better. Treat yourself. — Adam Wallis

Name of product: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hand Gel Cream
Retail price: $8
Available at: A variety of retailers
Product specialty: “Instantly boosts hydration for supple hands.”
First thoughts: Why is this so light? My hands are pretty dry in the winter, and when I do buy hand cream, I look for a thick formula that is long-lasting. I thought this formula was way too light and wasn’t sure exactly how this would last all day. The one thing I did appreciate about this cream was the scent and how non-greasy it was.
End-of-the-day test: My hands were less dry than before, but they were not supple, soft or smooth.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? If you suffer from dry hands, move on.
Score out of 5: 2 — Arti Patel

$10 to $20

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Name of product: CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream
Retail price: $13.99
Available at: A variety of retailers
First thoughts: This looks like a medicated lotion or something you get with a prescription. The first time it came out of the tube, it was far more liquidy than I thought.
End-of-the-day test: My hands definitely felt more moisturized but a touch too oily, almost slippery when it’s first applied.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? It did what it promised, so sure! It’s scentless, so if you like a nice smell with your lotion, this one might not be for you.
Score out of 5: 3.5 Chris Jancelewicz

Name of product: La Roche-Posay Cicaplast
Retail price: $16
Available at: Shoppers Drug Mart, Amazon
Product specialty: Barrier-repairing balm
First thoughts: It looks clinical and smells like a doctor’s office. It seems like something you’d get with a prescription.
End-of-the-day test: My hands felt soft and supple. This stuff definitely does the trick.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? This is a solid hand cream for winter, especially if your hands are dry and cracked. A little bit of balm goes a long way, and the small container is easy to carry in your pocket.
Score out of 5: 4 — Josh Elliott

Name of product: Aveeno Eczema Care Moisturizing Cream
Retail price: $12
Available at: Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart, most major retailers
Product specialty:  Relieves dry, itchy, irritated skin due to eczema. Aveeno’s “oatmeal” formula is meant to soothe skin and reduce redness, itching, dryness and irritation.
First thoughts: Very easy to apply and nice consistency. I like the light scent and consistency; not to thin or too thick.
End-of-the-day test: I applied this product in the morning, and by the time I got home from work, I found my skin to be slightly improved. It is not oily or sticky, meaning it easily absorbs and actually offers some much-needed moisture to cracked skin.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? Yes. For the price point and size, it’s a good deal.
Score out of 5: 4 — Laura Hensley

Name of product: Burt’s Bees Shea Butter Hand Repair Cream
Retail price: $14.99
Available at: A variety of retailers
Product specialty: Made of 99.63 per cent natural ingredients and improves elasticity of the skin to prevent “environmental aging”
First thoughts: It smells amazing, and the texture is perfect — soft and dense but not too greasy.
End-of-the-day test: I reapplied after every time I washed my hands and I’m hooked. Not only does my skin feel better, but I swear my nails and cuticles are stronger, too.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? Definitely. My dry, chafed skin has never looked better,
Score out of 5: 5 — Meghan Collie

Name of product: Hemp Hard-Working Hand Protector
Retail price: $10 (30 ml)
Available at: The Body Shop
Product specialty: For every tube purchased, The Body Shop will donate to help Re-Wild the World through its World Bio-Bridges mission, and the product includes Community Trade hemp seed oil from France.
First thoughts: The scent is nice, and the consistency feels like it would be heavy-duty, as described. I also like the packaging — handy for when you’re on the go.
End-of-the-day test: I wanted to love this cult favourite, but I found it left my hands feeling oily and not quenched, like it didn’t really sink into my skin. I had to continuously reapply throughout the day and found the residue it left on my skin uncomfortable.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? It’s a good option for people on a budget, but I would sooner buy a product with shea butter or other oils that penetrate the skin efficiently. This product feels like it has too many synthetic ingredients.
Score out of 5: 3.5 — Meaghan Wray

$20 or more

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Illustration by Laura Whelan

Name of product: Lush Helping Hands hand cream
Retail price: $21.95
Available at: Lush
Product specialty: All natural ingredients, certified safe synthetic ingredients and not tested on animals
First thoughts: The subtle floral scent was the first thing I noticed. At first, I found the residue a bit greasy, but it sunk into my skin pretty quickly. The consistency feels heavy-duty but goes on thin.
End-of-the-day test: This is easily one of my go-to hand creams now. My hands felt more supple by the end of the day, and getting a whiff of the lavender and marigold throughout the day was a nice bonus. A little goes a long way, so I expect the 100-gram container to last me a long time. The only inconvenience is the container, as it comes in Lush’s trademark recyclable tub (bonus points for being environmentally friendly) rather than a tube.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? Yes. The ingredients like honey, almond oil and cocoa and shea butters are perfect for a heavy-duty winter cream. Plus, it held up even after handwashing, which is super impressive and convenient during flu seasons. It was also great on dry elbows.
Score out of 5: 5 — Meaghan Wray 

Name of product: L’Occitane en Provence Shea Butter Hand Cream
Retail price: $38 (150 ml)
Available at: Sephora, L’Occitane
Product specialty: It says it will quickly nourish, protect and soften hands.
First thoughts: It doesn’t make my hands feel greasy and it dries very quickly, but I’m not a fan of the smell. The scent reminds me of something similar to a cream used for a baby.
End-of-the-day test: My hands felt very soft at the end of the day and they weren’t dry. but I did have to reapply a few times after washing my hands.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? I would recommend this hand cream for the winter because it dries quickly and doesn’t leave your hands greasy or slippery at all. It absorbs so fast and you can go about your day. It lives up to its product specialty, which was nourishing and softening hands. The scent might not be for everyone, though.
Score out of 5: 3.5 — Katie Scott

Name of product: Intensive Hand Repair by Miracle 10
Retail price: $39
Available at: miracle10.com
First thoughts: The subtle citrus smell of the product is refreshing and helpful for early mornings at the office. I noticed the texture of the cream is thick but not greasy like an ointment. After applying the cream, it quickly absorbed into my skin, and my hands felt moisturized but not oily. The smell isn’t overpowering so it won’t irritate others around you.
End-of-the-day test: The moisturizing effects of the cream last throughout the day, but if you’re dealing with extremely dry, cracked winter skin, you may have to apply it several times throughout the day.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? I would definitely recommend this as an easy cream to keep at your desk to use throughout the day, but if you’re dealing with serious dry skin, you might want to use a heavier product than this one.
Score out of 5: 4.5 — For keeping my hands hydrated and for making me smell like a grove of oranges — Olivia Bowden

Name of product: Aesop Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm
Retail price: $39
Available at: Nordstrom, Hudson’s Bay, Amazon
Product specialty: Barrier repairing balm
First thoughts: This looks like hand cream for the one per cent. It smells amazing thanks to a blend of rosemary, cedar and mandarin orange-rind scents. It also has a classy-looking tube with a quote from the poet T.S. Eliot written on it.
End-of-the-day test: This is day spa-level stuff. My hands felt soft and moisturized. I felt pampered. Two soft thumbs up.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? I’d never pay $39 for a hand cream but I can understand the price tag. It fulfills its job as a hand-moisturizing cream, but the texture and scent make it an enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for the very best hand cream for winter, this is a contender.
Score out of 5: 5 — Josh Elliott

Name of product: Velvet Mitts Hand & Nail Crème by 1’Lux
Retail price: $23
Available at: 1luxbeauty.com
Product specialty: A fragrant cream created to soothe dry hands and brittle nails. A “tapered precision applicator” lets users squeeze out the desired amount.
First thoughts: The thin applicator really limits how much cream comes out, meaning I used less than I likely would with other products. It isn’t oily or sticky and quickly absorbed into the skin. I like the coconut scent.
End-of-the-day test: I didn’t feel like the cream really moisturized my dry skin as much as I’d liked. I reapplied the product several times throughout the day, as my skin still felt dry and chapped.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? If you’re looking for a nice-smelling product with light moisturizing effects, Velvet Mitts may be for you. If you’re like me, on the other hand, and have very dry and cracked skin, you’ll likely need something stronger.
Score out of 5: 3 — Laura Hensley

Name of product: Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve
Retail price: $21
Available at: Sephora, Hudson’s Bay, Holt Renfrew
Product specialty: Extra-strength moisturizing to soothe and condition severely dry and/or weathered skin
First thoughts: This cream is fab! At first, it feels a little thick, but once you really rub it in, you almost forget about your dryness. It really doesn’t take much of the stuff to do the trick, either, which is great because it’s a relatively small bottle.
End-of-the-day test: My hands feel nice and smooth, with no trace of dryness every day. Great to apply every morning.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? Definitely! It’s great for dry hands, smells natural and is optimal for travel since it’s so small and compact.
Score out of 5: 4.5, with the only downside being the price for the amount you get— not a bargain. — Adam Wallis

Name of product: Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream
Retail price: $23.49
Available at: Well.ca
Product specialty: Intensely hydrating and ultra-moisturizing for dry, damaged skin
First thoughts: This is extremely heavy. The cream is thick, oily and left my hands feeling greasy. However, as a person who suffers from dry skin (and even drier elbows), this has become my new go-to night cream. The thick product lasts — and lasts a long time.
End-of-the-day test: When I wake up in the morning, my hands are still just as soft. My only concern for this is I wouldn’t want to wear it during the day. I felt like my keyboard was covered in a residue.
Would you recommend this hand cream for winter? Yes, but I would only use it at night.
Score out of 5: 4 — Arti Patel

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca

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