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Water based or oil based hand cream?

High Life- an oil based cream.

Many of us often dedicate a fair amount of money and time on face skincare but when it comes to our hands, most of us are red-handed guilty of overlooking them. Still, they need just as much TLC. This is because our hands are the body parts that we use and rely on the most. They are in constant play whether it is DYI, cooking or typing. Frequent daily washing, while essential in the name of hygiene, also strips natural oils from hands, leaving them as dry as a bone. Additionally, the delicate skin on your hands is where you usually see the first signs of ageing as they are really put through the wringer. This is not only because we use them as soon as we get up in the morning but also, they are constantly exposed to environmental conditions such as cold, UV rays and wind. Finally, the skin on top of your hands is much thinner and has less sebaceous glands, meaning it can become dry very quickly. The most effective way to repair and restore damaged hand skin, then maintain healthy skin is using a quality hand cream.

What hand cream to choose in the mind-boggling selection on the market?

  • Water based hand cream

Water-based creams employ water as the main ingredient into which the other, water-attracting humectant ingredients are mixed. Some of this water will soak into the skin when you apply the moisturizer, but some will evaporate. To prevent evaporation, water based moisturizers will often include one or several humectant ingredients. A humectant is a hygroscopic substance that has a molecular structure with several hydrophilic (water loving) groups. Humectants slow water from evaporating and therefore, keep the skin hydrated. Examples of humectants include glycerin, amino acids, peptides, urea, and hyaluronic acid. A water based moisturizer is best for those with dehydrated skin that is in need of moisture. Ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid are often used in water based creams, and they can deliver powerful hydration to dehydrated skin.

  • Oil based hand cream

Oil based creams are characterised by all ingredients being dissolved in an oil base. Looking at the ingredients list will clarify if the cream is either water or oil based. If the first ingredient is water, it is a water based moisturizer. If the first ingredient is an oil, such as jojoba oil or coconut oil, it is an oil based moisturizer. When a cream contains a higher concentration of oil than water, it is classified as an oil based cream. It is best for those with dry skin that has a damaged barrier or lacks sebum. The oil based ingredients will help to replenish the skin’s barrier function. Many oils also contain vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids that impart anti-aging benefits. Contrary to popular belief, most oils and oil based creams will not clog your pores and cause breakouts. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The theory with using oils on breakout-prone skin is that they actually help balance your skin’s sebum production, and help your skin’s own oil flow more freely. Finally, an oil based cream with a thick texture can protect the skin from environmental conditions. Adding water resistant properties to it will also increase its efficacy by enhancing the skin penetration properties and prolonging the time for the cream to actually work.

Is one formulation better than the other?

One of the most important factors to consider before choosing a moisturizer is whether your skin is dry or dehydrated. Dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water, not a lack of oil. Specifically, the skin’s Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) is what becomes depleted. When skin is dehydrated, it produces more oil to compensate for the insufficient water. This is why skin can feel dry and oily at the same time.

 In contrast, dry skin means that your skin produces less sebum than normal. Sebum is the natural oil produced by glands in your skin that functions to lubricate the skin and act as a waterproof barrier. Dry skin can also occur if the skin’s lipid barrier is depleted. The lipid barrier contains about 50 percent ceramides, 25 percent cholesterol, and about 10 to 15 percent fatty acids. Without these essential lipids, the barrier is weakened and the skin becomes dry. Overall, dry skin will look visibly dry and flaky, and can even be rough, cracked, and itchy. Dry skin can also lead to signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Also, the hand skin has tendencies to be dry due to external factors it is exposed to. As a result, oil based cream would work more effectively for most people.

Extra care:

  • Protect yourself from the sun. Apply sunscreen daily year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Apply creams while skin is still damp. After bathing, showering or shaving, pat your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains. Then apply a cream to help trap water in your skin. Depending on your skin type, you may want to reapply your cream two to three times a day, or more often, as needed. Although often ignored, your hands get more exposure to irritants than do any other part of your body.


Draelos, Z. (2018) The science behind skin care: Moisturizers. The science behind skin care: Moisturizers – Draelos – 2018 – Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology – Wiley Online Library. Accessed: July, 2021.

Lukic, M., Jaksic, I., Krstonosic, V., Cekic, N. and Savic, S. (2011) A combined approach in characterization of an effective w/o hand cream: the influence of emollient on textural, sensorial and in vivo skin performance. A combined approach in characterization of an effective w/o hand cream: the influence of emollient on textural, sensorial and in vivo skin performance – Lukic – 2012 – International Journal of Cosmetic Science – Wiley Online Library. Accessed: July, 2021.

McCormick, R., Buchman, T. and Maki, D. (2000) Double-blind, randomized trial of scheduled use of a novel barrier cream and an oil-containing lotion for protecting the hands of health care workers. Double-blind, randomized trial of scheduled use of a novel barrier cream and an oil-containing lotion for protecting the hands of health care workers – ScienceDirect. Accessed: July, 2021.

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