If you’re like most people trying to do their part in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, you’re washing your hands diligently with soap and water many times a day. Excellent hand hygiene is one essential public health measure to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, additional handwashing can result in dry skin and hand dermatitis, a rash that can manifest as red, itchy, cracked, or sore skin. People who have a history of eczema or who are prone to dry skin may be even more likely to develop dry, chapped hands during this pandemic.
What’s happening to your hands?
Intact skin acts as a protective barrier. Frequent exposure to water and the use of oil-stripping soaps and drying alcohol found in hand sanitizers diminish the healthy fatty compounds in the top layer of the skin. The result is an impaired skin barrier. In addition to the irritation and discomfort of dry hands, cracks and breaks in skin could lead to an increased risk of superficial skin infections.
How can you combat dry skin on your hands?
Dry hands may seem like a small price to pay for public health in the present time, but there are some preventive measures you can follow to combat dry skin.
Take these three steps when washing hands:
- Wash hands with cool or lukewarm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, washing thoroughly between your fingers and around your nails (see handwashing video). Per the CDC recommendation backed by multiple scientific studies, water temperature does not appear to affect elimination of germs. Extremely hot water can be more damaging and drying to skin. Consider keeping nails trimmed short to avoid trapping debris and germs.
- Pat hands dry lightly with a clean towel. Avoid wringing or rough rubbing.
- While skin is still slightly damp, apply a thick moisturizer to lock in moisture immediately and restore the skin’s barrier. Helpful ingredients to look for on moisturizer labels are petrolatum, mineral oil, ceramides, and/or glycerin. As a general rule, products packaged in a jar or squeeze tube are thicker in consistency, and therefore more moisturizing. For very dry skin, we recommend avoiding lotions in a pump bottle because these are typically thinner and contain more water.
Does the type of soap you use matter?
Any soap will do the job as long as proper handwashing technique is used. The reason lies in the chemistry behind soap. Soap is a surfactant, a type of compound that forms micelles (little balls of soap molecules that grab and trap dirt, oil, and germs). Soap also