By: Erin Kempe, DO
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC has recommended increased handwashing as well as the use of hand sanitizer whenever handwashing is not feasible. This can certainly help prevent the spread of disease, but can also result in dry, irritated hands. Here are some tips for keeping your hands from becoming over-dry while still keeping up with hand hygiene recommendations.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!
Whenever the skin gets wet, such as with handwashing, moisture from inside the skin is lost as the skin air-dries. To prevent this extra moisture loss, wash your hands according to CDC guidelines (wet your hands, lather, and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing). Be sure to rinse the skin well to remove any residual soap from the skin, which can lead to dryness. Gently pat the skin on your hands dry. Immediately apply a white, unscented moisturizer (we like Cetaphil, Eucerin, Vanicream, etc) to the hands after each time you wash your hands. This will help “seal in” the moisture from handwashing, and will prevent loss of moisture as the skin dries.
Try a non-soap cleanser
Soap contains ingredients called surfactants, which help lift dirt, viruses, bacteria, and oil from the skin. Unfortunately, soaps can remove natural oils from the skin as well leading to dryness. There are a variety of non-soap cleansers available that contain more gentle surfactants that do not overdry the skin. As long as good handwashing guidelines are followed (scrubbing for at least 20 seconds before rinsing), these cleansers are just as effective against the spread of disease and can be gentler on your hands.
Don’t use hand sanitizer if you can wash your hands instead
The active ingredient in hand sanitizer is ethyl alcohol, and in order to be effective against viruses, a hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol. While very effective, it is also very drying. To prevent over-drying of your hands, only use hand sanitizer if soap (or non-soap cleanser!) and water are not available.
Protect your skin from other soaps and chemicals
Since we are all needing to wash our hands more frequently, protecting your skin during other potentially drying tasks can help keep the skin from drying out. Wearing a pair of reuseable rubber or silicone dishwashing gloves while washing dishes or using household cleansers can help keep harsh chemicals off of the skin.
Try a night-time hand wrap
If your hands are showing signs of dryness or irritation, night time is a great opportunity for a little rehabilitation. Apply a thick, unscented cream generously to the skin of your hands and then cover with a pair of cotton gloves, or even a pair of socks. Wear these wraps while you sleep, and your hands will feel better moisturized in the morning.
If you are experiencing ongoing dryness or irritation despite the above steps, or if you are concerned about eczema or potential infection, let your provider know. We are always here to help!