I was asked a question by a journalist who was writing an article on the differences between hand and face creams. It is an interesting question so I thought that now I have plugged my typewriter in I may as well share it more widely. Before we look at the products lets look at the difference between the skin on the hands and the face.
The temptation is to imagine that the skin of the face is thinner. Well it might be. But that probably isn’t the important bit. The skin of the hand is a little thicker, but more significant is that it has a slightly different chemical composition. It is both tougher and more flexible and when it is in good condition more impermeable. This varies a bit from person to person and product to product, but I was working on a tanning cream a couple of years back which would I could apply to my skin and get a very reasonable tan but have no sign of it on the hand I applied it with.
The skin on the hand gets a lot more mechanical stress on it and has to grip things. It is pretty well designed to do so, and one of its features is that it rarely sweats. I suppose at one point in our evolutionary history climbing trees was an important means of escaping predators. Small boys still enjoy climbing trees, and as a former small boy I can confirm that the last thing you want is slippery palms when you are trying to grip branches. This is another of the big differences. There are not many sweat glands, or pores, on the palm. This has a big impact on the ease with which things can get through the skin and is probably the reason why the face is one of the main places people report skin reactions. They must have applied a lot more to their fingers when they were putting it on in the first place, but reactions on the fingers are very rare.
So when you are developing products for the face there are a lot of things you need to bear in mind that are different to when you are coming up with products for the hand. For a start there is the fact that the face is not as tough as the hands. So you need to keep the formulation thin and light enough to be easily applied without applying a lot of stress. Then you have to bear in mind the fact that it needs to absorb pretty quickly. Finally you don’t want to leave the skin looking shiny, so keep the oil down.
All of these things are achieved more by getting the right balance rather than picking specific ingredients, so don’t expect to see many different things listed on face products compared to hand products. The exceptions are that anti-aging actives and sunscreens are more appropriate for the bit of our skin that is most exposed both the sun and to people whose judgement about our appearance we are neurotic about. These are the things that the pack will be shouting about on a face cream.
The risk with a face cream is that it might block the pores and cause spots. There isn’t any good way of predicting this. I have written about the drawbacks of the comedogenic scale – it is probably a function of the consistency of the particular cream and the make of the individual’s skin. This is something you don’t need to worry about with a hand cream. The biggest problem the hands get is drying out, and if it is bad this manifests itself as cracking of the skin. This is a horrible, inconvenient and even painful state of affairs. The only option here is to put something really oily on to try and create a barrier to allow the dry cracked skin to heal. My personal suggestion would be something with lanolin in it – E45 for example if you are in the UK.
But ultimately hand and face creams are really part of a spectrum and if you are stuck it won’t do any harm to use a hand cream on your face or a face cream on your hand.