We are in the midst of a global pandemic and we all need to do our part to flatten the curve. That includes social distancing and proper hand hygiene. We know that coronavirus is spread both by respiratory droplets and viral particles left on surfaces, so minimizing contact with others and making sure that we’re washing our hands frequently is key. While I’m happy to see that so many have echoed this sentiment about hand hygiene, I’m sure that many people are now realizing what us healthcare workers have known for years: frequent handwashing can take a serious toll on your skin! The chemicals in soaps and sanitizers needed to kill microbes can result in irritant dermatitis or the flaring of dyshidrotic eczema – a type of eczema that can affect the hands and feet.
But fear not! Here are some tips to keep the skin on your hands healthy and moisturized through COVID season!
Optimize your handwashing practices!
By now, I’m sure you’ve all gotten the skinny about proper handwashing: wet your hands, apply soap, lather and scrub every part of the hands and wrists for 20 seconds and rinse. Once you start doing this upwards of 10 times per day, your hands will start to feel dry and cracked. Here’s how to prevent that:
- Use a gentle soap. Even plain bar soap has the ability to break up the lipid membrane of viruses like COVID, so if you have the option choose one that’s gentle and fragrance-free.
- Keep it cool. Super-hot water won’t confer any benefit for killing viruses or bacteria and will dry your hands out quicker. Just like with the rest of your body, lukewarm is where it’s at.
- Soap and water beats sanitizer. While alcohol-based hand sanitizers with greater than 60% isopropyl alcohol content are effective against viruses, they are not as effective as soap and water and are generally more irritating to the skin. That’s why I tell my patients to always go for soap and water if they have the option.
Moisturize EVERY TIME!
The biggest mistake I see people make with handwashing is not applying a moisturizer each and every time they clean their hands! This especially holds true after using soap and water. After patting dry or using an air dryer, you’ll be left with tiny little droplets of liquid gold H2O on your skin. Lock them in with a nice, THICC moisturizer. An ideal hand cream will have humectant ingredients to pull that moisture into the skin like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, as well as skin protectants like petrolatum or dimethicone that help seal that water in by creating a barrier.
Soak it up!
Hand soaks have been in the dermatologist’s toolbox for ages and can come in handy for anyone who’s doing frequent handwashing. Here’s how to do it:
- Completely submerge your hands in a container of lukewarm water for 5 minutes
- Lightly towel dry making sure you leave a few drops of water on the skin and then apply a thick ointment like pure white petrolatum
- Put on some cotton gloves to fully occlude the skin
This method is perfect before bedtime, so you can stay gloved up overnight. I’d recommend hand soaking two to three times per week.