Look at anyone’s hands and you can usually gauge their true age.
So why is it that while you can have some success in holding back the years on your face, when it comes to hands it is a much harder task?
‘The skin ages faster on the hands because they are exposed daily to chemicals, smoke and, most importantly, UV radiation,’ explains Nina Goad from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD). For women, the changes are exacerbated by the fact that levels of oestrogen, the hormone that stimulates collagen production, start to drop around the time of the menopause. Collagen is the protein responsible for keeping the skin on our hands plump and fleshy, so once the collagen levels start to decrease, it shows in our hands.
But while you can’t stop the natural, biological ageing process, you can take steps to reduce ageing caused by external factors such as pollution, UV radiation and harsh washing up chemicals.
Rough patches on hands
Rough areas on hands can mean your diet is too low in essential fatty acids. 'Just like the skin on your face your hands need to be well nourished to stay smooth and soft,' explains Natalie Savona, author of Wonderfoods (Quadrille).
Fruit and vegetables
Try eating more foods containing essential fatty acids. Good sources include fish such as salmon and sardines, nuts and seeds.’ You can add hemp or blended seed oils to salads, smoothies, porridge, cooked vegetables for an extra dose, or even consider taking supplements,’ says Natalie.
Make sure your diet also contains plenty of fruit and vegetables in a wide variety of colours, for example orange, apricots and squash, purple berries and sprouting broccoli. This will ensure you get the full range of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which research shows may help protect against sun damage.
The benefits of fruit and vegetables
The best foods for sun protection
Cracked hands and deep lines
Painful cracks and deep lines on your hands are usually a sign that your skin is dehydrated.
Drink two litres of water a day
Aim to drink at least two litres of water a day to keep moisture levels well topped up. Keep a bottle with you at all times and take frequent sips. Go for fruit and vegetables with a high water content, such as celery, cucumber, courgettes, tomatoes and all types of melon.
The most hydrating foods
Strategies to avoid dehydration
Dry and chapped hands
Exposure to the sun, wind, cold weather, harsh detergents, cleaning products and so on can quickly dry out hands.
Moisturise your hands regularly, especially after contact with water. ‘Try to limit the amount of time your hands spend in water and in contact with soaps and detergents, as these can be very drying. Wear rubber gloves when washing up, and slap on a hand cream after washing your hands,’ advises Nina.
‘Your hands may become more chapped in the winter as cold weather, rain and changes in temperature affect the skin's barrier function, so always moisturise hands before going outside and wear soft gloves that don't scratch or irritate the skin.’
Help for hardworking gardeners' hands
Age spots on the skin
Age spots are flat, dark marks on areas of skin exposed frequently to the sun, such as the hands. They are caused by UV light causing uneven build up of pigmentation in the skin, explains Nina.
Learn more about skin care
Sunscreen is a defence
Your best defence against age spots is to use a sunscreen on your hands, says Nina. ‘Choose one with an SPF 15 or more that also has a high level of UVA protection. Sunscreens containing both SPF (UVB protection) and UVA filters are called 'broad spectrum'. '
Laser treatments can help to fade spots and in some cases remove them for good. Using a special hand exfoliate to slough off the top layer of skin can also help to fade spots.
Find the best sun protection for you
Creaky finger joints
Stiff fingers or unusual bumps at the base of thumbs or on the fingers are typical symptoms of arthritis.
Learn more about arthritis
A work-out for arthritis
The best thing for arthritic fingers is to keep them moving. Try giving them a daily work-out with these three exercises:
Stand straight with your hands by your sides. Lift hands slowly up moving them backwards and forwards from the wrist. Hold at shoulder level then bring them back down flexing hands in same way.
Intertwine your fingers in a prayer position, then turn them inside out so that palms are facing out, while straightening and pushing arms in front of you at chest level. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat several times.
Clasp your hands with fingers tightly interlocked. Press fingers and palms together as firmly as you can for a count of five. Release and shake your fingers vigorously.
Wearing a splint can help ease pain and stiffness too – you can get them from the pharmacy or your doctor may be able to get you one.
Daily help for hands
- Keep hand cream beside every basin in the house and apply religiously every time you wash hands. Keep a tube in your bag, car, office and by your bed.
- Always wear washing up gloves. Try slathering on some hand cream first - the heat from the water will intensify the cream's activity so you'll be killing two birds with one stone.
- Always wear gloves for gardening and housework.
- Drumming nails on the table as if you were playing the piano can improve circulation to fingertips, helping to warm up cold hands.
- Dry hands well after washing. Any water left on skin will evaporate, leaving it looking and feeling dry.