The Drugstore Secret to Soothing Irritated Hands

As soon as the first cold winter wind rolls through, I feel it coming. I’ll glance down at my hands, and sure enough, there they are: red, itchy bubbles swelling on my palms and in between my fingers. The part of the year when my seasonal psoriasis appears has arrived, which means the return of my yearly ritual of heading to CVS to re-up on Vanicream.

Seasonal psoriasis is defined by the American Academy of Dermatology as a chronic disease caused by the immune system telling skin cells to grow—fast. The skin piles on top of itself, developing a curious-looking, patchy surface. I didn’t experience this ailment until I moved to New York City in 2012, whereupon my skin freaked out in response to the harsh winter climate. The home button on my phone didn’t recognize my fingerprint, since new skin was developing at such a rapid clip, and I had zero grip and dropped things all the time.

I bought lotion after lotion listed on beauty sites that insisted these were the best creams to hydrate wintertime hands. Drugstore brands, luxury labels—I tried them all. But each one exacerbated the state of my skin and often caused more clamminess. After plenty of digging and research, I have finally found what is still my saving grace: Vanicream.

Vanicream is a paraben-free, fragrance-free, non-greasy lotion that’s thick and rich, but still gentle. I have a one-pound pump jug of the stuff sitting in my living room, and I buy empty travel-size bottles to fill with Vanicream so I can carry it with me wherever I go. It’s utilitarian, completely unsexy, and clinical in its approach to soothing skin. One of the lotion’s main ingredients, petrolatum, is incredibly effective at creating a barrier for the skin and locking in moisture, but is still gentle (petrolatum is typically included in lotions made for babies.) It’s the first part of my morning routine and the last thing I administer liberally on my hands before bed.

Vanicream relieves my palms and provides smoothness and hydration, but it does something else: It makes me feel like a normal person again. Looking at my hands doesn’t cause me feelings of deep dread. I don’t drop things as much. And my iPhone, which for months insisted it could not unlock the home screen with an unrecognizable fingerprint, finally realizes it’s just me. I’ll be using it through spring and summer, too—when changing temperatures will no doubt cause my sensitive skin to freak out once more.

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