Mom Hands and How One Common Chemical Changed My Life

This isn’t a post about the healing qualities of a mother’s touch {although I totally believe that is a real and very important thing}, this is about dried out, cracked, itchy mom hands. It turns out to be a very common ailment among mothers, especially in the winter months, but you should know that it could be something more.

It started for me around the time my oldest was potty training. Along with that joyous time period comes a lot more hand washing than usual, more washing means more drying soap. In my case, this was also around the time I started to be a full-time stay at home mom and although I didn’t realize it until later, my hands were always getting wet. Think about it, cooking, cleaning, wiping, cleaning, rinsing, filling, washing. All quick rinses but it adds up fast when you are doing it all day, every day. Pretty soon my hands were split, cracked, bleeding, even peeling and so very painful.  

I happened to mention it to my dermatologist and he kind of blew it off. He said it is very common for moms of young children to get dry hands and there isn’t much that can be done. I tried everything I could think of to get some relief – lotions, overnight glove treatments, I had tubes of hand cream stashed everywhere and I was constantly applying it but nothing helped. I didn’t understand it – was this normal? Were other moms really in this much constant distress? Why didn’t anyone talk about it? 

Luckily my condition improved during my second pregnancy but just a few short months after my son was born it was back with a vengeance. At this point it would get so bad in spots I began to become concerned about nerve damage or infection and I now had terrible, deep-seated itching, the kind that can’t be satisfied by just scratching and I couldn’t get relief from. I was starting to lose hope of having normal hands ever again.

I mentioned it to some of my mom friends and most of them commiserated with me right away, complaining of dried out skin, but no one seemed overly concerned – surely they couldn’t be affected the same way I was to just laugh about it in passing. I felt like I had to be missing something so I went to see a new dermatologist but he basically again reinforced the commonality of it and said only a steroid cream would give me relief, which I wasn’t willing to take while nursing.  

And then it happened, I was reading an article from the New York Times about a woman with an allergy to a common preservative found in many soaps and beauty products. She said the reaction to this allergy made her hands look like they had been in a fire. I think my jaw literally dropped open as I looked down at my own hands. Yes! A fire! That is a perfect analogy to what I was feeling! I finally felt like I was uncovering some answers.

Methylisothiazolinone {or MI for short} is a chemical preservative that is used in lots of different everyday products and because it can be effective in very small amounts it is even in products marketed as being natural. So while I went out of my way to buy the ‘natural care’ baby wipes, the natural dish soap and shampoo, and special hand cream with organic ingredients, I was actually aggravating my own condition and making it worse by ignoring this one specific chemical.

I started reading labels and threw out tons of products I was using every day. I had to change how I was doing nearly everything – I can’t use soap in public bathrooms {I carry my own} and I have to be very careful when helping my kids, I can’t use the shower gel provided at my gym, I had to switch to a powdered laundry detergent, going to the salon or spa is anything but relaxing now because I have to check all the products first.  

I was astounded at all of the places I was finding MI, but as soon as I wiped it out of my system I saw immediate relief in my hands. I still have flare ups all the time because I still forget occasionally and MI is still hiding in so many places {mouthwash, hairspray, even paint}, but I am in so much better shape now and I feel like I have some control over it. 

Even if you don’t have such a dramatic reaction, dried out ‘mom hands’ are totally a real and common thing. My doctors have given me some great tips that everyone can use:

  • Avoid temperature extremes
    • When the weather outside reaches freezing or below, make sure you wear your gloves – I know it is hard when you are grabbing little hands and rushing from car to building, but take care of yourself first
    • On the other hand {ha!}, watch that your bare hands are not exposed to hot water.  Dishwashing gloves have been a huge help for me
  • Find a good lotion {preferably without MI} and make sure you reapply it frequently in the winter and when your hands are in and out of water a lot 
  • Trust your gut and remember if you think it could be something more, it probably is

Do your mom hands get dried out and itchy? What have you done to find relief? 


  1. Beautycounter is a company you might be interested in because they are totally upfront with their ingredient list and they actually have a NEVER list! I am glad you found the culprit! Preservatives are yucky!

  2. Thank you for sharing you experience!

    I have been watching MI destroy lives for several years now. Even though it is not common, it is disabling when it happens to you.

    I agree always choose products that do not contain MI or MCI for yourself and your kids because once you become sensitized, life becomes a challenge in so many unexpected ways.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  3. Thanks for this post! I was diagnosed with this allergy in January 2017. You are right, this chemical is so pervasive it really does change your life. The fact is that it IS becoming common (as far as allergens go) and since you need to get it completely out of your life (and house) to get relief, it effects your whole household. Beauty products are relatively easy (since it should be listed) as long as you go fragrence free. Cleaning supplies, not so much.

    I wish doctors (even those claiming to be contact dermatitis experts) knew more about this chemical. Very disappointing.

    Again, Thank you for sharing,


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.