Hands-on Solutions

From peels to lasers, there are several options to get a grip on the aging of our mitts
Illustration by Joseph Daniel Fiedler

If eyes are the windows of the soul, hands are the roadmap of a life lived.

From suntanning to pruning roses, bathing babies to sanding furniture, hands wear the effects of our daily labors like a glove.

“You can tell a person’s real age just by looking at their hands,” says Dr. Firas Karmo, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac. “As we age, hand skin develops age spots, becomes thinner, and there’s a wasting of the skin; veins become a little more obvious.”

There are some changes you’re not in control of, he says. Blood vessels become thin and fragile, causing small areas of bleeding under the skin.

The most common type of visible aging on the backs of hands is due to sun damage. Some sun damage is related to a person’s profession. Most commonly, however, photo aging is due to suntanning without protective screens and blocks, as was typical of the beach and poolside scene 20-30 years ago. The problem: Sun exposure weakens collagen. So what to do? Start with the obvious: Keep skin hydrated with moisturizers and lotions.

Karmo says there are several options for those who would like their hands to match their carefully maintained faces and figures.

1. Exfoliate with light or deeper chemical peels. Deeper peels rejuvenate and regenerate the collagen and reorient the collagen fibers, which break in different directions.

2. Treat veins with lasers or sclerotherapy.

3. Address the wasting of fat. Refill the divots that occur between the tendons and bones by augmenting the spaces with fat or fillers, such as Restylane or Juvéderm (both are made of hyaluronic acid). A relatively new product is Radiesse (calcium-based microspheres suspended in a water-based gel), which is essentially permanent.

4. Less seldom done is a “face-lift” for hands, in which a small incision allows for the resecting of the skin.

It’s important to sit down with a medical professional to look at the signs of aging. Karmo suggests finding a doctor who is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (Visit plasticsurgery.org.)

In addition to plastic surgery, spa treatments can help alleviate some signs of aging and dryness caused by environmental stress, including winter weather.

Visage Spa in Bloomfield Hills offers what it calls the Pure Fiji Island Hand Treatment, which is based on exfoliation and coconut oil applications.

“I prefer coconut oil,” says Cara Kirschner, an aesthetician and skin-care specialist at Visage. “It’s a natural oil, so your body won’t reject it like mineral oil. Coconut is my favorite, also almond oil.”

Kirschner says the Fiji hand treatment begins with a coconut-milk soak to soften the skin in preparation for exfoliation. “We buff off dead skin buildup,” Kirschner says. “After the scrub, when all the bad stuff is off, we do a massage with a body butter. Then come the hot mittens because the heat helps the body butter penetrate better.” Any remaining butter is massaged into the hands. Kirschner recommends a monthly treatment with the added use of coconut oil in between. She suggests that clients add coconut oil to the cream they use at home.

Across town at Om Spa in Dearborn, Dr. Duane Kreil says many clients express concerns about the skin on their hands.

“A lot of people have extensive photo damage,” he says. “We put sunscreen on our faces, but not our hands.”

Fortunately, he says, we can apply some of the same topicals to our hands that we use on our faces. Vitamin C gels and creams address hyper-pigmented skin on both the face and hands. Hydroquinone (2-percent) creams are available in a lot of formulations and work well, he says.

“As far as smoothness and texture,” Kreil says, paraffin treatments are great for locking in moisture. “Our skin has natural oils that lock in moisture. But antibacterial soaps and alcohol cleaners dry it out.”

Paraffin treatments are easily included in manicures. In addition, Kreil says, Om sells a take-home paraffin kit from Perfect Sense.

“Generally, paraffin treatments once a week would be sufficient,” he says.
Kreil says many people now are getting micro-dermabrasion on their hands, which makes the freshly exposed skin more receptive to topical treatments.

Because more and more baby boomers want to “age youthfully,” as the euphemism says, doctors are becoming more expert, and more solutions are being developed.

“In general, plastic surgery has seen a surge in the last 10-15 years,” Karmo says. “It’s now for the average individual, and we have more options than five or 10 years ago.”

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