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Solutions for dry, leathery hands

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Feb 18, 2020 - 8:44:58 PM
851 posts since 3/1/2005

This is for folks who have found a solution for leathery hands.

I have dry hands that feel exactly like leather. When people shake my hands, they say something like, "How long you been farming?" "Are your hands still alive?" "Can you actually feel my hand?" "It's like holding a shoe." Etc. And I've shaken hands with a lot of pro pickers. Their hands are ALWAYS softer than mine. When I first started picking 20+ years ago, my hands were relatively dry and leathery then, too, but age is definitely making them harder and more leathery.

And that gets in the way of my picking. Oils and lotions soften my hands, and it's so much easier for me to pick when I have softer hands because I get a kind of better bio-feedback. It softens my fingertips so I can feel everything. Without the lotions/oils, my fingers are just dumb and clumsy. This goes as much for the left hand as the right. The left hand wants to feel the strings, and the right hand wants to feel the picks -- and the picks picking the strings -- and lotion and oil help me to do that. And the older I get, the more and more I have to use them. Twenty years ago, I could use lotion once every few days and it worked fine. Now, I have to use lotion almost every time I pick, not too long before I pick. The BEST thing I can do is soak my hands in warm or hot water before picking -- that makes my fingertips perfectly sensitive. But the water dries quickly and I'm back to leather hands maybe three or four songs into playing. Plus my hands always dry cold, even in the summer. Oil and lotion are the next best thing since they keep the hands soft longer and don't make my hands cold.

So my inquiry is twofold:
1) What oil / lotion can I use regularly without it hurting the fretboard? I use almond oil, sesame oil, Udderly Smooth, and Burt's Bees Hand Salve. And I wipe down the fretboard every time I pick.
2) Does anybody else have this problem? What solutions have you found? The ultimate goal here is to keep getting sensitivity in my fingertips without hurting the banjo.

Thanks for any feedback.

Feb 18, 2020 - 9:01:25 PM

2333 posts since 3/30/2008

I've found raw coconut oil to be an excellent body oil. It has some homeopathic properties. ...If used properly, it should give your hands some relief, but never register on the banjo.

Feb 18, 2020 - 9:20:08 PM
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406 posts since 5/29/2006

Corn Huskers Lotion.

Feb 18, 2020 - 9:25:27 PM
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1517 posts since 11/17/2018

See a dermatologist.

Feb 18, 2020 - 10:15:15 PM

851 posts since 3/1/2005

Originally posted by OldNavyGuy

See a dermatologist.

I have. It's not a dermatology problem. It's more likely a metabolic or endocrine problem.

Feb 19, 2020 - 2:32:48 AM

293 posts since 3/12/2014

Musher's secret for dogs. I started out using it on my dogs paws. Then, I discovered it was working great on my hands.

Better than the stuff my dr suggested.


Feb 19, 2020 - 5:31:20 AM
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12667 posts since 10/30/2008

The old farmers used to swear by the product called Bag Balm (for dairy cows) for any kind of rough hands. Comes in a green cubical can. It's a petrolatum kind of product, thick like a salve.

I think the worst an oil or lotion might do to a fingerboard is darken it a bit. It's probably actually good for the wood. Wood dries out too.

Feb 19, 2020 - 5:59:16 AM
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268 posts since 3/28/2013

O'Keefe's Working Hands (available at hardware stores and Walmart, and probably drug stores. Hands down (pun!) the best stuff I've ever used for my hands. I didn't have to deal with the leathery skin, but dry cracked skin.

Feb 19, 2020 - 6:15:22 AM
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1990 posts since 1/16/2010

I’ll second O’Keefes! Only stuff I’ll use anymore, nothing comes close.

Feb 19, 2020 - 6:22:19 AM

295 posts since 2/26/2012

Eucerin ph5 Cream.

It is fantastic

Feb 19, 2020 - 6:55:20 AM

1107 posts since 8/10/2009

Bag Balm is amazing stuff. Works for utters, chapped lips, hands, feet... you name it... it’s softens and heals it.

It does have a very medicinal smell... and tastes terrible (if used on chapped lips)

Feb 19, 2020 - 7:11:19 AM
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158 posts since 5/3/2004

Earl used Possum fat. Oh wait, that was for his hair.

Feb 19, 2020 - 10:55:24 AM
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1076 posts since 8/7/2017

The Working Hands stuff comes in a green hocky-puck-like container. I have also seen tubes of the stuff, but have not used that version.

I use it for healing whitlows and knuckle skin cracks. Like the instructions say, it only takes a very small amount for these injuries. It's pretty dry when rubbed in, not greasy like other hand products I've tried. It certainly softens the skin around a knuckle crack, hopefully it would soften your fingertips. Softening your whole hand might need a wetter, more lotion-like product. This stuff in the puck is like soft wax in consistency. It works better at cracks than anything else I've tried, almost miraculous. I recommend it for cracks based on my excellent results. *I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in this product*

Hope this helps.

Feb 19, 2020 - 12:59:53 PM

173 posts since 8/25/2009

Another approach:

Starting when I went away to college, I got dry chapped hands -especially in winter.  As I got older, it started happening a bit in warmer (more humid) weather.  A couple of years ago, I started taking fish oil pills, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D3, and my problem went away.  I can even wash dishes by hand!  I've also remembered that my parents always gave me  tablespoon of cod-liver oil right after breakfast -until I went off to college.

The cynic in me suspects it might be all the gelatin in the capsules that's helping -but that's supposed to be good for fingernails.  


Feb 19, 2020 - 1:56:05 PM



77 posts since 10/12/2011

I’d start with your primary care provider for assessment, could be a deeper problem than something a simple fix (like lotion, etc) would solve.

Lichen simplex (leathery, thickened skin) is sometimes a symptom of a deeper cause.

Edit: just saw that you'd seen a dermatologist and it "may be an endocrine or metabolic problem."

True. Any testing done to discover a cause?

Edited by - AGACNP on 02/19/2020 14:01:32

Feb 19, 2020 - 2:01:30 PM

10664 posts since 2/12/2011

Eucerin or Bag Balm

Feb 19, 2020 - 8:47:03 PM

11329 posts since 4/15/2012

I use a French product called BIOMAINS, which also keeps my fingernails from cracking in cold weather. It's a bit pricey, but a very little goes a long way.

Feb 20, 2020 - 3:36:05 AM

29 posts since 5/24/2009

There's always Mean Mary's Sweet Pickin' Balm.

Feb 20, 2020 - 11:46:59 AM

12667 posts since 10/30/2008

Speaking of bag balm, I was at the feed store today and they had TINY cans of it by the cash register. The cans were about the size of a die (dice) or one caramel candy!! And they were priced at EIGHT DOLLARS. The guy laughed and said "by the regular size can for $10".

Feb 24, 2020 - 3:15:01 PM

1107 posts since 8/10/2009

Yep. Bag balm should be too expensive. $10 for a nice sized tin is about right.

$8 for a tiny one... I am not sure farmers care about the “cuteness” factor.

Feb 24, 2020 - 3:46:03 PM

Banjo Lefty


1798 posts since 6/19/2014

I have a similar problem. I use Aveeno (made with oatmeal extract, they claim), twice daily.

Feb 24, 2020 - 3:46:42 PM
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13428 posts since 9/27/2007

Originally posted by Smelly Old Gibby

Bag Balm is amazing stuff. Works for utters, chapped lips, hands, feet... you name it... it’s softens and heals it.

It does have a very medicinal smell... and tastes terrible (if used on chapped lips)

Smelly. Reminds me of the joke about using cow manure for chapped lips. 

It keeps you from lickin' 'em! 

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