It's a widely held belief that hands are the first body parts to show significant signs of aging — but they also reveal a life well lived, says Erin Kleinberg, the founder of hand-care and candle brand Sidia. "We talk with our hands and communicate by touch and feel, so I think the time for hands is now…as we are all re-entering society," she says. It only makes sense then that the hand-care industry has exploded in both popularity and innovation.
Hand-care products have existed for centuries (if not longer). But, until recently, they've been fairly basic, lacking in the artistry, innovation and efficacy we've come to expect from face-focused skin care.
"Skin care has become so saturated, and consumers are looking for new, more thoughtful ways to treat other areas of their body — beyond the face and neck, beyond a multi-purpose body cream," notes Amy Welsman, the founder and CEO of hand-care brand Paume, which launched in early 2020.
Welsman found the hand-sanitizer industry lacking in natural, luxurious formulas that actually smelled good. She created a proprietary formula (the brand's signature Antibacterial Hand Gel), and immediately found success; sales have grown five times since the launch. The brand has subsequently expanded into an entire range of hand-care products, including a multi-purpose probiotic hand balm and exfoliating hand wash, as well as a handful (sorry) of upcoming additions, including a hand-specific sunscreen.
There's no mystery behind the hand sanitizer category's 2020 boom — and it seems to have deepened consumers' focus on their hands in general.
"I think hand care has been something we all quietly obsess over in our private moments as we age, but it certainly has become something that has become a larger topic of conversation," says Nadine Abramcyk, the co-founder and head of brand for Tenoverten, a New York City nail salon that also sells its own line of polish and hand-care products. The brand debuted its line of (as they describe it) "face-grade skin care for your hands" in 2018, a collection that now includes a hyaluronic acid-boosted brightening hand cream (designed to target age spots and dryness), a brush-on, overnight hydration hand mask, and even a hand serum (The Age-Defying Serum), specifically designed to address and prevent early signs of aging.
Before the marketing hoax alarms start ringing in your head, questioning whether a hand-specific serum is really necessary, consider the basic benefits of a serum: They typically have a high concentration of active ingredients, produce deeper absorption than creams and usually feel light and sink in quickly. Isn't that just the description of your dream hand cream?
Sidia's Kleinberg thinks so. "There is a very glaringly visible void for a non-greasy hand cream," she emphasizes. "We've spoken to so many people who just refrained from hand cream given how greasy and balmy they can be, so we created this perfect clean formula as a serum so that more experienced users can layer with a thick cream, but for those who can't stand waxy greasy creams, they can enjoy the lightweight, fast-absorbing, non-greasy power of our frothy serum, and then continue to go on their way touching their laptops, hair, or eating an apple without having to wipe their hands on a towel." Alongside The Hand Serum, Sidia (which was named after Kleinberg's grandmother) has also launched a gel-based hand exfoliant, designed to shed dry skin — ideal before applying a hand serum and/or cream.
Another company getting innovative in the hand-care category is Soft Services, whose whole ethos is about treating body care as thoughtfully as we do skin care. In September, the treatment-focused brand introduced Theraplush, a reparative overnight hand balm spiked with anti-aging skin-care staple retinol as well as soothing colloidal oatmeal. Beyond the dermatologist-approved ingredients, Soft Services also went for a ritualistic approach with its product; the formula comes housed in an artful refillable vessel with an easily removable lid meant to simplify the user experience, even with balmed-up hands. The treatment is also purposefully waxy, meant to linger on hands and cuticles, creating a protective and restorative veil overnight as the actives do their thing.
At $58, this treatment is hardly a standard hand cream; and yet, priciness aside, it's already proven to be quite popular, having sold out on the brand's website. (Not to mention racking up many outspoken fans, including Fashionista's own beauty director.) Hands, it's clear, are no longer a secondary or forgotten sector of the beauty industry.
"Hand care is the next frontier in body care, especially when it comes to protecting our skin from signs of aging," says Welsman. "Today's consumer is very concerned with their skin health starting at a young age — they are practicing preventative measures earlier than the previous generation…Numerous studies show there has been a significant rise in cosmetic treatments for hands at dermatology clinics, such as fillers and laser treatments, which is proof that people are not just interested in the category but are spending a significant amount of their beauty budget toward achieving more youthful-looking hands," adds Welsman.
Dr. Geeta Yadav, a Toronto-based, board-certified dermatologist, and founder of Facet Dermatology, notes that while her patients have been inquiring about in-office procedures for years, she's seen a particular uptick in awareness of these procedures and requests for hand-focused treatments lately. "Lasers, like Fraxel, and professional chemical peels are popular options for correcting signs of aging on the hands, more specifically fine lines and dark spots caused by sun damage," says Dr. Yadav. "These powerful exfoliating treatments resurface the skin to reveal the healthier and more youthful skin underneath," she adds.
She also frequently uses an injectable filler called Radiesse, which utilizes calcium hydroxylapatite to restore volume to the backs of hands. "Thinning skin, laxity and volume loss age the hand rapidly; plumping it back up again is a very effective rejuvenation option," she notes.
What does Dr. Yadav think of the products in this hand-focused boom? "I wouldn't say that the hands on the skin need particularly unique ingredients — the ones that have worked for years in face care formulas (and have been recently appearing in body care) will do," she says.
Like most dermatologists, she recommends only a few key products for her hand-focused patients: a sunscreen, an exfoliator and a moisturizer. The most important of those, though, is also often the most overlooked: sunscreen. As with the face and body, it's crucial that sunscreen be worn consistently, every single day on the hands as well.
"The hands often get as much exposure to the sun as our faces do, yet our faces get all the love when it comes to skin care," says Dr. Yadav. She recommends putting sunscreen on the backs of your hands (as well as your face and neck, of course) before leaving the house. She's a fan of hand creams with sunscreen, so you naturally incorporate SPF into your daily routine. On that same note, Tenoverten recently introduced a broad-spectrum, lightweight, hand-focused SPF hand cream called The Protective Suncream ($39) designed to hydrate while also protecting with mineral SPF 30 sunscreen.
For exfoliation, Dr. Yadav recommends something like like Dr. Dennis Gross Daily Peels. "When using chemical peels in a wipe format, it's easy to quickly swipe the back of your hands after you do your face and neck," she adds.
When it comes to hydrating creams, Dr. Yadav emphasizes that skin is skin, arguing, "You can effectively treat your hands with products that you use across your face and body." So if you're using a retinoid or a sunscreen on your face and happen to have some left over on your fingertips, just go ahead and massage that into the backs of your hands, as well. Simple enough. That said, if you don't mind the investment, a well-formulated hand cream (ideally with active ingredients, like AHAs, vitamin C or SPF) is a helpful indulgence, she notes.
Overall, the growing hand-care category illustrates the power of a niche focus, especially in the crowded and often confusing beauty market. "I certainly think there are duplicitous products on the market in the beauty space, but there are also some amazingly niche products that are shining in the hand-care category now that just make a big difference when used consistently," says Abramcyk. For Welsman, the rapid success of Paume is proof that hand care isn't just a passing fad. "There is a market for more luxurious skin care products for hands; it's not just a trend, or an aftershock of the pandemic, but an important category that is here to stay," she says.
What else might emerge in this realm? For Kleinberg, an element of self-care is top of mind for consumers: "Our hands are actually our most precious asset, they're underserved and underloved," she says. But she also foresees even more specialized products. Tenoverten's Abramcyk agrees: "I think the more solution-oriented products are yet to even hit the market, I imagine these will target specific skin issues related to hands."
Another trend to look forward to within hand care is greater democratization of price points. "I do believe the hand-care category is emerging as the next big category," notes Abramcyk, "but that it will become more accessible and not just live in the luxury realm."
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