What are the Best Anti-Aging Hand Creams?

Hey Nicki, I hope you’re doing well !
Tell me, what are your favorite anti-aging hand creams ? Which ingredients should I especially look for ?
Most hand creams are labelled “anti-aging” when they contain some SPF, but to me, it is not enough.
Thank you, and have a nice day !!! =D
-Vanessa

Dear Vanessa,

Hand cream is one of those areas in which the skin care market still seems to think it’s 1982:  It’s outdated, overhyped, and there is almost no science behind the vast majority of the products.

Still, there are some key ingredients you should look for in any hand cream.  I personally believe in applying three hand creams:

  • A treatment cream, based upon the current condition of your hands;
  • A long-wearing cream with SPF;
  • Whatever facial creams you are using – rub a little extra on your hands in the morning and at night!

Cream #1, Option 1:  Long-wearing hydrators when your skin is healthy.  

Unlike cream applied to the face or the neck, moisturizer applied to the hands is constantly being rubbed off through physical activity and water exposure.  So it is important to apply agents to your skin that seal moisture in, which are called occlusive agents.  Look for ingredients like dimethicone, petrolatum, and mineral oil.   Note that while many people feel petrolatum and mineral oil are too “impure” for use on the skin, both are typically refined to be free of pore-clogging impurities by large-scale cosmetics companies.  According to Rebecca James Gadberry, chairman and co-CEO of YG Laboratories, cosmetic-grade mineral oil is not as offensive as many women believe. On a rating of zero-to-five, with five being highly pore-clogging, Gadberry says that tests of the cosmetic grade of mineral oil usually grant a one or two rating.  It is actually the other ingredients used with mineral oil that tend to be the problem – think of mineral oil like saran wrap for the skin, drawing other agents you apply closer.  Avoid comedogenic ingredients like lanolin, isopropyl myristate, and sodium lauryl sulfate, particularly when also using petrolatum or mineral oil.  Try TheraSeal Hand Protection ($18.25, Amazon.com

Cream #1, Option 2:  Intensive hydrators when your hands are dry. 

Lactic acid is the only FDA approved agent for dry skin.  An alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid can be naturally extracted from milk, but is usually synthesized in a lab for use in cosmetics in order to ensure its purity.  The advantage to lactic acid over other alpha hydroxy acids is it does not temporarily thin the skin, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.  My favorite lactic acid-containing moisturizers include Azfasst ($19.99, Amazon.com) and AmLactin ($25.74, Amazon.com).

Cream #1, Option 3:  Intensive exfoliators and brighteners if your hands are wrinkled, age-spotted, or have decreased firmness.

If your hands are more wrinkled and age-spotted, the best treatment over-the-counter is glycolic acid or retinoids.  Excellent results can be obtained quickly with M.D. Forte Hand and Body Cream ($28.49, Amazon.com), which contains 20% glycolic acid.  Typically, you can expect glycolic acid of this strength to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles within three days of regular, twice-daily use.  Glycolic acid of this strength will improve skin firmness in about a month’s time.

Another option is to use a hand cream that contains retinol.  Unfortunately, hand and body creams that contain a high concentration of retinol are hard to find, as most facial drugstore retinol creams, like Neutrogena Healthy Skin, contain only about 0.025% retinol, and facial creams over-the-counter go up to 2% retinol.  An option is to carry Neutrogena Healthy Skin ($13.72, Amazon.com) or Skinceuticals 0.5, with 0.5% retinol ($45.72, Amazon.com) around with you and reapply frequently, but you will find much faster results from 20% glycolic acid in M.D. Forte Hand and Body Cream ($28.49, Amazon.com), and the tube will last much longer!

Unfortunately, because glycolic acid and retinoids thin the skin, rendering it more susceptible to UV damage, you must wear a separate cream with SPF over top, or else you are asking for sun damage!

Cream #1, Option 4:  Hyperpigmentation treatments if your hands have age spots or are discolored.

Hyperpigmentation treatments are getting a makeover.  Years ago, the only treatments available were inhibitors of the enzyme tyrosinase, which essentially prevented excess skin pigment (melanin) from being produced.   These tyrosinase inhibitors included hydroquinone, azelaic acid, resorcinol, kojic acid, and vitamin C.  Unfortunately, hydroquinone and resorcinol were found to cause an irreversible reflex darkening of the skin, called ochronosis, in some patients with darker skin tones.  While the reaction was rare, it was more common when hydroquinone and resorcinol were used together, causing major outbreaks of the condition in South Africa in the 1990’s.  The scare was enough to set into motion a widespread search for the next generation of skin lighteners, both brightening and gentle.  These new agents include peptides, such as the Stanford University-developed Lumixyl, and oligopeptide 34.  Lumixyl ($60.00 for the complete system) is also a potent inhibitor of tyrosinase, with efficacy similar to 2% hydroquinone in limited trials, but with no side effects.  Oligopeptide-34, on the other hand, not only inhibits tyrosinase, but also inhibits a hormone called alpha-MSH (melanin-stimulating hormone).  Oligopeptide-34 is included in the new Exuviance OptiLight Essential 6 Serum ($68.00, Amazon.com).

Cream #2, For everyone:  Broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.  


The most effective anti-aging ingredient over the long term, sunscreen is vital to keeping the skin on your hands soft, firm, and smooth over time.  If you are adamant about staving off signs of aging for as long as possible, then you need to wear a hand cream with SPF, as up to 50 percent of UV rays penetrate through windows, and fluorescent bulbs can also emit a small but cumulatively damaging amount of light in the UV spectrum (GELighting).  As such, wear a sunscreen on your hands.  If you *must* have a separate hand cream, try Loving Naturals SPF 30+ Hand Cream ($9.99, Amazon.com).  The packaging could use a little work, but the formulation is downright glamorous, with a high concentration of antioxidant grapeseed oil and an astonishing 24.8 percent zinc oxide.  And given the price, I’ll slip one of these into each of my handbags anyday!

Bottom Line

Treat your hands like an extension of your face:  Use a treatment serum or lotion to address your most immediate concern, and religiously apply a sunscreen over top, even if you are mostly inside during the day.  And if all else fails, wear a big ring!  Studies have shown people judge hands to appear younger when they are adorned with jewelry.  So bling it on…(yes, that was bad, I know)…

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Photo source:  applying hand lotion, originally uploaded by Design Spade.

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