Can you tell what kind of work people do just by looking at their hands? A mechanic’s hands and nails will be tough and frequently grease-stained. An office worker’s may be smooth and soft, with well-groomed nails.

A full-time mother with several children and a small garden will probably have hands sporting short nails and dry skin and cuticles. A carpenter, mason, or farmer may have rough, cracked, suntanned hands with hard fingernails and thick calluses.

We tend to pay a lot of attention to our face and hair but often neglect one of our most expressive features: our hands. They are constantly exposed to sun, wind, heat, cold, harsh cleansers, dirt, and grease and are one of the first places on our body to show age.

You can fight the ravages of time and the elements on your hands by remembering to take a few important steps each day: Apply moisturizer frequently; wear appropriate gloves when your hands will be exposed to water, cleansers, or chemicals; and wear garden gloves when you’re working outdoors.

Don’t forget to apply to your hands a natural sunscreen lotion with an SPF of 15 whenever you’re in the sun. The following recipes will help to soften, protect, and condition your hands and nails.

1. Renewing Hand and Nail Butter

No matter which essential oils you choose, this formula is rich, deeply conditioning, and incredibly beneficial for dry, rough, chapped hands and cuticles, chapped lips, and rough knees, elbows, and feet.

It’s also particularly effective for the prevention of scar tissue when consistently applied to fresh cuts and scrapes.

Yield: 12 cup

Prep time: 20 minutes, plus 12 hours to completely set

Skin Types Recommended for: everyone

  • 14 cup almond, extra-virgin olive, jojoba, or sunflower oil
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa butter
  • 1 tablespoon beeswax or vegetable emulsifying wax
  • 1 tablespoon shea butter (refined or unrefined)
  • 2 capsules 200 IU vitamin E oil
  • 48 drops carrot seed, frankincense (CO2), geranium, helichrysum, lavender, myrrh, or rosemary (ct. verbenone) essential oil (or any combination)

To Make

In a small saucepan over low heat or in a double boiler, warm the almond oil, cocoa butter, beeswax, and shea butter until the solids are just melted. Remove from the heat and gently stir for 1 minute; then allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

Add the vitamin E oil (pierce the capsule skin and squeeze the contents into the mix) and essential oil(s) and stir to blend. Pour into a storage container(s) and cap, label, and date.

Note: Cocoa and shea butter take a while to completely set up, so leave the product at room temperature for 12 hours before use. The finished formula will have a paste-wax consistency.

Be aware that unrefined shea butter has a strong scent and will greatly diminish the aroma of the essential oil(s) but not their beneficial properties.

To Store

No refrigeration is required, but for maximum freshness and potency, please use within 1 year. Store in a dark, cool cabinet.

To Apply

Ideally, apply this blend onto slightly damp hands and feet as an overnight softening treatment, but it can also be applied to dry skin. Wear gloves or socks to seal in moisture and protect sheets.

Use daily or as desired.

For a nail and cuticle treatment

Soak your fingertips in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes to soften your nails and cuticles. Pat dry. Apply a tiny dab of this butter onto the base of each nail and massage in.

Using a small piece of cotton flannel, gently push back your cuticles, and then lightly buff your nails with the cloth. This treatment leaves your fingertips soft and smooth.

For shiny nails

Apply the butter as described above for the nail and cuticle treatment, but use a nail buffer instead of the cloth to gently ­polish your nails to a soft sheen.

2. Nail-Strengthening Soak

Thick, conditioning castor oil leaves behind a tough, shiny, protective residue on nails, helping to prevent environmental damage. It also strengthens nails and relieves drying and cracking of cuticles.

Yield: 4 treatments

Prep time: 5 minutes

Skin Types Recommended for dry, brittle, weak nails and cuticles

  • 4 tablespoons castor oil
  • 12 drops frankincense (CO2) or  myrrh essential oil

To Make

Combine the castor oil and essential oil in a small bowl — just large enough to comfortably soak your fingertips — and mix with a spoon. Cover the bowl tightly. Label and date.

To Store

Refrigerate for up to 1 month, then discard.

To Apply

Set the bowl of oil in a shallow hot-water bath for a few minutes until it is comfortably warm. Soak your fingertips in the oil for 5 to 10 minutes to soften your nails and cuticles, then wipe off most of the oil.

Using a small piece of cotton flannel, gently push back your cuticles, and then lightly buff your nails with the cloth. You can use the same batch of oil for four soaks.

Use daily or as desired. Follow with moisturizer or balm.