Wellness

How to Keep "Bar Hands" At Bay

Hands chopping limes
Regularly exposing hands to water, harsh cleaners, and citric acids often causes bartenders to experience dry, chapped or cracked hands. Photo: Juanmonino/iStock

Somewhere between lemon-chopping, dish duty, damp towels, and being constantly surrounded by liquids, bartending isn’t easy on your hands. All of that near-constant exposure to water, spirits, acids and cleaning chemicals tends to wreak havoc on the skin, leading many a barkeep to suffer through dryness, cracking, and other unsavory woes. (Add icy winter temps to that mix, and you’re not exactly setting yourself up for a second career in hand-modeling.) “Bar hands” is a very real occupational hazard, so we surveyed a hundred professional bartenders from around the world for their insightful tips on keeping their mitts in good condition. We also asked our panel of experts to share their go-to products for keeping “bar hands” at bay. The results ranged from drugstore products to luxury cosmetics, plus various balms and salves developed for farmers, gardeners, salty sea captains, and the like. See below for our findings.

Essential oils

  • Coconut Oil. "Coconut oil is cheap and very effective. I use it after a shift before I go to bed. I like that it's all natural and deeply penetrates while I sleep." — Emily Bohn, Maple Tree Inn (Chicago)
  • Olive Oil. "It's cheap, plentiful and works." — Pat Thomas, Angelina's Bar and Restaurant (Dublin)
  • Almond Oil. "Organic Sweet Almond OIl is hypoallergenic, so much so that it can be used on baby's skin. It's great for those who have really sensitive skin, like me! It's packed full of Vitamin A, E, monosaturated fatty acids, proteins, and zinc. It's even used for those who suffer from eczema and psoriasis. It is packed with mega hydration for the skin. I use it all over my skin as a moisturizer." — Jessica Lambert, Sable Kitchen & Bar (Chicago)
  • Vitamin E Oil. "Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects and repairs skin. Antioxidants neutralize oxidant molecular effects which damage collagen and cause the dryness of the skin. I use this before and after my shift and I don't have a problem with dryness anymore." — Adil Yamin, Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails/MGM Grand (Detroit)
  • Emu Oil. "It reduces inflammation as well as being a non-petroleum based product." — Brittany Fells, The Rose (Jackson, WY)


Drugstore gems

  • Eucerin Lotion. "Eucerin is thick and works very well. No smell, and if you rub it in well, it is not greasy. And the price is right for everyday use." — Kate Gerwin, Humpback Sally's (Bismark, ND)
  • Aquaphor Healing Ointment. "Works for tattoo artists and surgeons, works for me." — Nicholas Jarret, The Saint & Cure (New Orleans)
  • Vaseline Intensive Care Cocoa Radiant Lotion. "It is non-greasy and does not have a scent. Works on to the skin easily. Also not super expensive. It is available just about anywhere." — Marvin Allen, Hotel Monteleone Carousel Bar (New Orleans)
  • Cetaphil Daily Advance Lotion. "Three dermatologists have recommended it to me as the best option in terms of quality and bang for your buck." — Mike Tomasic, Rhonda's Bar & Restaurant (Central Coast, Australia)
  • Burt's Bees Hand Salve. "Not only works for several hours, but moderately water resistant too." — Madison Burch, Seven Lambs (Atlanta)
  • Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. "Inexpensive, does the job, widely available." — Philip Duff, Door 74 (Amsterdam)


Feeling fancy?


Tough stuff


Tips & techniques for keeping the moisture in

“Definitely gloves during prep, I'm a huge advocate of this practice. Same applies when giving the bar a deep clean. I'm much more mindful and methodical in my environment, in my movements when building a round of drinks in the weeds. This helps not having to rinse my hands constantly like I used to from being so careless and sloppy in the past. So I keep things rather clean! Having dry towels within arms reach at many points in the bar is key. Having liquid soap tucked away for the bartenders to use can come in handy when need be.” — Daniel Castro, Toronto, Maple Leaf Tavern (set to open soon)

“I use coconut oil for almost everything. Putting some on my hand and putting them in gloves overnight I swear takes years off them.” — Kimberly Patton-Bragg, New Orleans, Three Muses

“Many bartenders we are involved with say [that] rough hands are better for gripping, muddling, speed, multiple bottle holds, and using bar tools under immense pressure and speed.” — Alejandro Mercado, BarTales.net

“Gloves during juicing helps, other than that I am a firm believer in regular manicures even for guys. Our hands are on display, so it is important to take care of them.” — Peter Vestinos, Chicago, The BarMedic

“I try to do deep-moisturising hand -- and foot; my feet take a beating, too -- treatments at home, with Bliss-style gel gloves and whatever organically produced moisturiser I have at hand. I also try to use cuticle creams. I tend to forget the latter and not find time for the former, but I try . . . .” — Seanan Forbes, New York, Middle Branch

“I have been blessed with good skin on my hands, that after nearly 15 years behind a bar and, 15 years on the side of a cold wet hill in Ireland working with horses, I very rarely have to use any treatments at all. The one thing I have always done, much to annoyance of the accountant, is go through over a roll of blue paper or a bale of service towels every shift keeping my hands dry. I've noticed that everyone I work with has problems with "bar hands" allow their hands to stay wet/damp where as I am very OCD about keeping them dry.” — Pat Thomas, Dublin, Ireland, Angelinas Bar and Restaurant

“I also get regular full body massages and ask them to spend a decent amount of time on my arms and hands. It keeps things flowing and avoids muscle kinks.” — Emily Bohn, Chicago, Maple Tree Inn

“I'm a big believer in treating problems internally as well as externally, and I've noticed an incredible difference in the skin on my hands since I started adding nutritional yeast to my smoothies, and I think this might be because it is very high in B vitamins. I also take a multi-vitamin that's high in Vitamin E, which is protects the skin.” — Laura Bellucci, New Orleans, SoBu

“I use the best soap I can afford, especially at the restaurant where I wash my hands 20+ times a day. FYI, what's not in your soap is generally more important than what's in it.” — Annene Kaye, New Orleans, Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29

"I will usually reapply during a break if working more than 6 hours. The Lava Pumice Powered Soap is used to remove the barrier of Hand-E-Glove at the end of the shift and will help prevent calluses from forming. Then moisturize with your favorite lotion. Mine is Helping Hands from Lush. It is unscented and doesn't leave my hands feeling oily.” — Kyle Strategier, Columbus, Ohio, Oddfellows Liquor Bar

“Any cuts or open cuticle should be protected using liquid bandage.” — Leo Schilling, New Orleans, Cafe Amelie

“The main thing is actually keeping your hands dry. Wear gloves when prepping citrus. Keep a towel on your person to dry your hands all the time. Stay out of bright sunlight with bartender hands as well. Also, wash your hands after putting them in the dishwasher. My personal belief is that it's chemical burn and excessive moisture. I have never had bartender hands in all my career.” — Kirk Estopinal, New Orleans, Cure, Bellocq, Cane and Table

“I like to apply a heavy layer [of Udder Cream] and then put tube socks on my hands before I go to bed at night.” — Nicholas Kosevich, Minneapolis, Bittercube

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