Like many jobs that involve working with your hands, bartending comes with a unique set of physical challenges. Bartenders must have the stamina to remain standing behind the bar, often without time to eat properly, for long hours.
What most folks don’t know is that bartenders’ hands themselves are often at risk for a number of conditions that range from mild to serious. In one of the worst scenarios, the Margarita burn, also known as phytophotodermatitis, can occur when citrus juice makes skin hypersensitive to sunlight. The result? A one-way ticket to the burn unit.
Though that’s a drastic example, many everyday bartenders suffer from dry, cracked skin and calluses caused by excessive contact with water, citrus and cleaning agents. Another common affliction is paronychia, or bar rot, a bacterial or fungal infection that appears as inflammation near the cuticles.
While serious cases of bar rot can require antibiotic treatment, there are many widely available products you can use to keep hands moisturized and healthy to prevent damage in the long run.
We’ve asked bartenders across the country to find out what creams and products have worked for them. You might have to play around with a few to find the one that works best for your skin, but it’s worth taking the time to do some research. After all, we use our hands not only to make drinks but to present them to our guests. From essential oils to beauty creams and heavy-duty salves, these are some of the best hand products for bartenders.
Essential oils like almond and coconut can work wonders on your skin. (Some bartenders suggest sleeping with cotton gloves to keep the oil concentrated on hands longer.) The most popular of these recommendations is tea tree oil, a plant extract known for its healing benefits, specifically its antifungal quality. “I've had success with using tea tree oil before bed,” says Jane Elkins of Dream Baby in NYC. “The main idea is to care for your hands regularly. Waiting until you have got full-blown wilting cuticles makes for an agonizing and lengthy recovery.”
See it: Tea tree oil
Take a comprehensive approach to skin care with a simple combination of hand-friendly soap and regular lotion. “For maintaining already healthy hands, use a gentle soap for washing,” says Devon Tarby of Proprietors LLC. “Dr. Bronner’s is great for the bar as it won’t impart any unwanted odors to your product. Gently dry hands, then immediately apply a water-based lotion like Derma-E.”
See it: Castile soap
Drinking a glass of apple cider vinegar a day provides wonderful benefits due to its antibacterial properties. But you can also use the stuff on your hands. “Mix half a cup of apple cider vinegar with one liter of water, and submerge your hands in it for 20 minutes every day,” says Tequila Cazadores brand ambassador Manny Hinojosa.
See it: Apple cider vinegar
Sourced from a Ghanaian women’s collective that creates it via traditional methods, this nut-based hand cream is the thickest and richest on offer from the beauty brand Lush. “This stuff is amazing—it’s absolutely my favorite hand cream and has saved my hands from cracking in the winter,” says The Dead Rabbit bartender Becca Pesce. “Apparently, they put in the same healing enzyme that’s found in your saliva, so it also helps to heal any small cuts you have. I swear by it.”
See it: Hand cream
Originally designed for rock climbers, this organic, unscented salve helps treat minor cuts and soften calluses. Ben Rojo, the head bartender at New York City’s George Washington Bar at Freehand New York hotel, suggests using the salve before leaving the house. rather than in the middle of a shift. “Applying before or during a shift is a great way to throw tins across the bar; a proper greasing before I left the house and again before bed worked wonders for me.”
See it: Salve
If you’ve fallen victim to a full-blown case of bar rot, it’s time to call in the big guns. “I’ve been through the ringer with bar rot over the last eight months and have tried a number of different products,” says bartender Tommy Flynn of Mother’s Ruin and Drexler’s. “The one I’ve found most effective has been Terrasil, an antifungal cream. I work in two very high-volume bars where it’s hard to keep my hands dry, and that has made it hard to really fix this, but everything is nearly fully cleared up.”
See it: Ointment