This hydrating hand lotion from Kiehl's keeps my skin from getting dry or cracked — it's a godsend given all the hand-washing I've had to do lately

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This hydrating hand lotion from Kiehl's keeps my skin from getting dry or cracked — it's a godsend given all the hand-washing I've had to do lately
With all the hand-washing I've had to do lately, this hand cream has been indispensable.Kiehl's Since 1851

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  • Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve offers a rich and intensely hydrating experience without any greasy residue.
  • The formula absorbs quickly and makes my hands feel softer to the touch, even hours after application.
  • At $23 for a 5-ounce bottle, it's more expensive compared to other hand creams, but I've found it to be worth the cost.

The skincare industry has no shortage of products that make grand, inflated promises, which can make it somewhat tricky to find what really works. Though it's not a fail-proof strategy, I usually start my search by looking for products that consistently earn positive reviews or, better yet, have reached that elusive "cult favorite" status. If everyone else digs it, there's a good chance I'll find it's worth the money, too.

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Cue Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve, a non-fussy hand cream that's earned the seal of approval from beauty editors and everyday folks just trying to soothe parched hands. I remember the first time I tried it — desperate for a little moisture to quench my dry hands and eager to see if it'd live up to the accolades. Fast forward years later and you won't find me without a tube in my car or purse — especially considering how much I've had to wash my hands lately.

The texture of the cream and what it's like to use

The cream whipped into a really thick and decadent balm, but it somehow melts into skin like a dream and doesn't leave a greasy film on top. In many of my hand cream trials and errors, a product either sits heavy and oily on my skin or it doesn't feel rich enough to get the job done.

What I'm perhaps most impressed with, though, is how it keeps my hands moisturized for a long time. A personal pet peeve of mine is when you have to constantly re-apply a product, but I can use a little of this stuff and enjoy the effects for hours.

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This hydrating hand lotion from Kiehl's keeps my skin from getting dry or cracked — it's a godsend given all the hand-washing I've had to do lately
My hands before (left) and after (right) using the Kiehl's lotion.Wendy Gould

The key ingredients

Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve has a simple formula with ingredients proven to work. Its key components are avocado oil, which is rich in omega essential fatty acids, as well as sesame seed oil, nourishing vitamin E, creamy shea butter, and eucalyptus oil. Curious about how all these add up to a legit cream, I reached out to Dr. Caren Campbell, a board-certified dermatologist based in California.

"Avocados contain persenone A and B, carotenoids, chlorophyll, phenols, and flavonoids, which all work as antioxidants fighting free radicals. Carotenoids in high amounts have been shown to improve skin thickness, build collagen, and show efficacy as an emollient," she says. "Also, shea butter has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and sunflower oil is the best topical oil for moisturizing skin when patients are looking for a more natural alternative."

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Cons to consider

In my opinion, the biggest drawback of this hand cream is the price. Though not the most expensive option out there, it's certainly not the most affordable. A five-ounce tube costs $23, which equates to about $4.60 per ounce.

Another potential con is that it does have a slightly medicinal scent due to the inclusion of eucalyptus oil. It's not outright fragranced (a no-no for cracked, sensitive hands) and the smell would go undetected by many, but if you're extremely sensitive to scent, it might be a deal-breaker. Dr. Campbell adds that in addition to smelling medicinal, eucalyptus oil has been shown to cause allergic reactions when applied topically, particularly in those who have extremely sensitive skin.

Also, regarding the formulation, Dr. Campbell notes that while shea butter is a good moisturizer, it isn't her top choice. She says, "There is evidence it does work, but it is not the first ingredient I would have patients look for when trying to find a good cream to treat dry skin. I always prefer creams with barrier components such as dimethicone and skin barrier components such as ceramides or filaggrin."

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Dr. Campbell says her two top recommendations are EltaMD So Silky Hand Crème ($20) and O'Keeffe's Working Hands Hand Cream ($5.99).

The bottom line

There's a reason why this product is a staple in so many people's regimens. It's a rich and hydrating balm that melts into skin without leaving an oily film, and skin does look and feel noticeably softer after using. Also, a little goes a long way and you don't have to constantly re-apply.

Though the dermatologist I spoke with does suggest that there are other creams out there with ingredients that could be more effective, but that doesn't negate the good experience I've had with Kiehl's.

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In terms of alternative options, I've discovered a few other hand creams and salves that meet and surpass my needs. Over the years, I've relied on Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion To Relieve Dry Skin ($5.49) as a budget-friendly option (I began using this one in high school at the recommendation of my grandmother, a nurse). L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream ($29) is great if you're seeking a decadent splurge in picture-worthy packaging, and I've recently found a winner in Bastide's hand creams ($12), which is perfect for times when I want to apply a richly-scented product (ambre soir is my favorite).

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