How Alcohol and Occlusive and Humectant Moisturizers Work Together to Protect Hands in Dr. Greenfield’s HandShield

Skin Care


Dr. Greenfield’s HandShield ($11.99, is a cream lotion intended to moisturize and protect the skin of people who work with their hands. It’s a gentle and unscented formula that has good moisturizing and protective capabilities thanks to emollient cetearyl alcohol, occlusive moisturizers lanolin and mineral oil, and humectant moisturizer glycerin. Dr. Greenfield’s sent us a sample to try and I found that it was an effective protection for hands.

The First Ingredient is an Emollient and Alcohol: Cetearyl Alcohol

Alcohol gets a bad reputation in skin care, but fatty alcohols like cetearyl alcohol are beneficial to skin.

Don’t let the term “alcohol” make you nervous. It’s a common and problematic misconception that alcohol is always drying in skin care products. Alcohol refers to anything chemically that ends in a hydroxyl compound (-OH). There are seven alcohols that are non-irritating and serve numerous positive purposes in cosmetics. They can be remembered by using the mnemonic device “5 C’s steer left”: Cetyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, Cetostearyl alcohol, Cetyl alcohol 40, C12-15 alcohols, Stearyl alcohol, and Lanolin alcohol (The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual).

[Read More: The Three Most Misunderstood Concepts in Skin Care]

Cetearyl alcohol is derived from coconut oil that works as an emollient, which means it softens the skin. It’s also used to improve the viscosity of formulations. Unfortunately, those with coconut allergies should avoid cetearyl alcohol and new studies are showing increased cases of contact dermatitis in patients using creams containing cetearyl alcohol (Clinical and Experimental Dermatology).

A Bit About the Occlusives: Lanolin and Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a derivative of petrolatum that acts as an occlusive to form a protective barrier on skin.

Lanolin and mineral oil are both occlusive agents. Lanolin comes from the subcutaneous glands of sheep.  While it is possible to developed contact dermatitis from, be allergic to, and be sensitized by lanolin, studies have shown that it’s much less common than previously assumed (British Journal of Dermatology). In the aforementioned study, on 1.7% of 24,449 patients had an allergic reaction to a 50% solution of lanolin.

Lanolin is good for healing. In a study on porcine (pig) skin, lanolin was found to work as well, if not better, than epidermal growth factor (EGF) at healing partial-thickness wounds (The Journal of Burn Care and Rehabilitation). The lanolin sped up re-epithelialized the wound, increased dermis cell counts, and increased the thickness of the skin. It also had a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on wounds.

Mineral oil is actually a petrolatum derivative that also serves as an occlusive moisturizer. It’s often used because, like petrolatum, it has a low incidence of irritation. It works in the same way to create a protective barrier and allow skin to heal. However, it can be somewhat pore clogging, rating about a one to two on a scale of one to five, which is still very limited (Skin Inc.).

[Read More: Is Mineral Oil Really Bad for Your Skin?]

Why You Want Occlusives with a Humectant like Glycerin

Glycerin pulls moisture from the atmosphere. But it can also pull moisture from the lower layers of skin unless paired with a humectant, like in this formula.

Glycerin is a humectant moisturizer, which means that it pulls moisture from the environment into your skin. Over a 10 days study, glycerin was found to improve skin moisture in a 20% formula when compared to a control (International Journal of Cosmetic Science). Glycerin is also an effective moisturizer because early studies find that it may help skin cells have enough time to mature, as demonstrated in a study on mice. It seems that this explains why glycerin can be so beneficial to those with skin disorders that cause thick and dry skin (Science Daily).

Unfortunately, humectant moisturizers can pull moisture from the lower layers of skin. That means that in the wrong formulations, it can exacerbate skin dryness. That’s why it’s important to have the protective layer in the form of an occlusive agent. Fortunately, in Dr. Greenfield’s HandShield the mineral oil and lanolin help to protect skin against transepidermal water loss, allowing for the glycerin to be effective without causing dryness.

Personal Use and Opinion

I found that Dr. Greenfield’s HandShield lotion worked well to coat my hands and make them feel soft. It’s about a medium thickness. The lotion didn’t leave any greasy feeling on my hands and had very little scent. Overall, I found that it was an effective moisturizer that I could see being very effective for those who have hard work to do, or even those who live in cold regions.

Bottom Line

In addition to the above-mentioned ingredients, Dr. Greenfield’s HandShield also benefits from the moisturizing properties of silicone dimethicone and soothing aloe vera. Overall, this cream is gentle and shouldn’t cause irritation to dry, cracked hands. Though, as with nearly everything, it’s not entirely impossible for irritation to occur with ingredients like lanolin, so if you have issues, stop use immediately and talk to your dermatologist. I see the benefits of this for people who work with their hands but, as I said before, I think even those who live in cold areas can help protect their hands.

Product Rating:  8.5/10

  • High or optimized concentration of key ingredients: 2.5/3
  • Unique formulation or new technology:  3/3
  • Value:  3/3
  • Sunscreen: 0/1

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