Many of the patients in my occupational-health clinic are factory workers who often present with dry, cracked hands. This is a concern because of the chemicals these workers use daily.

I have recommended applying petroleum jelly and wearing a cotton glove at night. Some patients have voiced concern that the petroleum in the product is toxic. Is there any credence to this claim?— Eileen Newton, ARNP, Everett, Wash. 

While I do not give this claim any credence, patients will have to judge things for themselves. I use petroleum jelly on my three young children and myself regularly. If a person is concerned about product safety, I strongly suggest that he or she buy branded Vaseline petroleum jelly. This product goes through a rigorous process of purification and is highly refined, tightly controlled, and widely considered noncarcinogenic.

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If the patient is still hesitant to use this product or wants a more natural option, consider beeswax, coconut oil, or olive oil. I always suggest a one-week trial on the inner arm to evaluate for allergy or reaction. Apply the product on the same spot every night and if there is no reaction after one week, it should be considered safe to use on the hands.

Olive oil can be very pure, and very few people are allergic to it. It is not the most cosmetically elegant solution, but it does work. Most importantly, I foresee no potential cancer or toxic risks on the horizon. — Abby A. Jacobson, PA-C

These are letters from practitioners around the country who want to share their clinical problems and successes, observations and pearls with their colleagues. We invite you to participate. If you have a clinical question, submit it here.