Fashion & Beauty

Changing Hands

July 24, 2022


iStock photo.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

I THINK OF my mother often, although she died three years ago. Reminders of her sometimes come as a surprise: I’ll be about to apply lip gloss and notice that the shape of my mouth—slightly downturned at the corners now as I’ve gotten older—is just the same as hers. That my feet seem to be getting more narrow-heeled, like hers. And then there are my hands. My mother’s hands were always manicured; mine are rarely. But if I stare at them long enough, they morph into my mother’s, the blue veins a bas-relief against the thin, almost translucent skin. In a way, I find this comforting; the resemblance reminds me that my mother persists despite her physical absence. But it’s sad, too, because it also reminds me that she’s gone, and that I’ve replaced her in the lottery of who’s next.

During my mother’s final bout of pneumonia, I spent as much time with her as I could in the hospital. One bleak winter day when I first entered her room and took her hand, she withdrew it quickly. My hands were cold. She tried to speak through her breathing mask. What is it, Mom? I said. She struggled. I thought she might be trying to tell me she was in pain. Or even that she didn’t want to go on. But she couldn’t talk through the mask. Take it off for a second, I told the nurse, just take it off. I put my ear right up to Mom’s mouth. Tell me, I said.

Why weren’t you wearing gloves? she said.

You won’t be surprised, I guess, when I tell you that I love old, veiny hands. There’s something beautiful, something very wabi-sabi (the Japanese term for the appreciation of transience) about them. Especially with a chunky, burnished pink-gold ring or some other imposing adornment, old hands look to me as if they’ve earned the right to carry heavy, important jewelry. (Important maybe only to you, but still . . . )

If you prefer the soft, plump, unmarked hands of youth you still have and you want to keep them, apply the same anti-aging products you use on your face on your hands. That should include a retinoid (vitamin A derivative) cream, a moisturizer, and—this is critical—sunscreen. If you haven’t been good about sunscreen, you can have hyperpigmentation spots lightened at the dermatologist’s office; veiny hands can be plumped up with filler or fat injections and the veins reduced. You can choose from an extensive menu of hand-related treatments from chemical peels to radiofrequency to laser.

Me, I’d rather spend that money on a cocktail ring (just browsing, thanks).

If you live in a climate that’s especially cold (for the moment) in winter, you may suffer as I do from dry, cracked skin on your hands—a situation worsened by our recent hand-washing protocols. There are two creams that have worked very well for me and are often recommended by dermatologists: Working Hands cream and Neutrogena Norwegian Formula hand cream. Both go on sticky but dry quickly enough that you can respond to an urgent email or take up your knitting without a problem.

I typically don’t like scented creams, because fragrance on your hands can be cloying, but I do love this one from C.O. Bigelow. Its description, which I couldn’t write any better if I tried: Floral/Woody Top notes of Anjou pear, juicy mandarin, sparkling bergamot and herbaceous lemony thyme with mid notes of the petals of violet, magnolia, rose and earthy geranium with a dry down of warm, creamy sophisticated notes including oakmoss, amber, vanilla, white cedar, musk and sandalwood. The fragrance isn’t as complicated as it sounds; it’s simply lovely.

Oh, and rubber gloves are put to very good use these days at the kitchen sink. The best I’ve found are the Casabella Waterblock gloves.

I doubt those were the gloves Mom was asking about that dreary morning in her hospital room. But taking care of my hands today feels just a bit like she’s still taking care of me, too.

“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions.

Yes, you in the third row, settled comfortably into a house seat?

Q: What’s one of the best ways to think about beauty, especially as you age?

A: Though I wrote this for O, The Oprah Magazine years ago, I think it’s worth repeating for you many new readers: Real beauty isn’t about symmetry, or weight, or makeup. Real beauty is about looking life right in the face and seeing all its magnificence reflected in your own.

2 thoughts on “Changing Hands

  1. cynthia tilson says:

    What a lovely post! Mine are hands that tell a story of a hard working, nurturing woman. Each wrinkle, freckle, blue vein, and knobby knuckle was earned. Two trophies of a life well lived, at the ends of my arms, for all to see…

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Hear, hear!

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