Tips for Managing Dry Skin From Frequent Handwashing and Sanitizing

Frequent handwashing is one of the most important ways to protect yourself from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise us to wash our hands with soap and cold or lukewarm water for at least 20 seconds several times a day, cleaning the fronts and backs of our hands, between our fingers, and around our nails. When we’re away from home and don’t have access to soap and water, the CDC recommend hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol as an alternative.

That works to kill germs, but what about the drying effect of frequent handwashing and sanitizing on our skin? Here are some tips for skin health to go hand in hand with the advice on disease prevention.

Why Frequent Handwashing Can Cause Dry Skin

As soap and water wash away germs, they also strip the natural, protective oils from the surface of your skin. These oils act as a shield for your skin, helping it retain moisture. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can have an ever harsher drying effect on your skin. Without care, dry skin from frequent cleanings can worsen into rashes, itching, flaking, and cracking.

Don’t read that as a caution not to wash your hands so often. The advice to wash our hands frequently during the pandemic comes from proven science. You need to pay attention to the health of your skin, too — in the way you wash your hands and how you treat them after each washing.

Tips on Washing Your Hands to Avoid Skin Dryness

Use a mild soap, preferably with added moisturizer. While you might feel tempted to use strong soap to kill germs, research shows that mild soap removes germs just as well if you wash your hands thoroughly. Instead of looking for antibacterial power, look for soap that has soothing effects on your skin. Moisturizing soaps with ingredients like glycerin, lanolin, or hyaluronic acid will get rid of the germs while countering the drying effects of the cleaning. “Natural” soaps with ingredients like coconut oil, avocado oil, shea butter, or jojoba oil have a similar protective effect. In general, liquid soaps tend to be less drying than bar soap.

If you have sensitive skin, look for fragrance-free soap and read labels to watch for irritating chemical ingredients.

Use cold or lukewarm water to wash your hands. The CDC guidelines spell this out in more detail. Cooler water is just as effective for eliminating germs as hot water and is gentler on your skin. Hot water amplifies the drying effect of handwashing and provides no added disease protection.

Pat your hands dry rather than wiping or rubbing them, using a clean towel.

Keep Your Skin Hydrated With Moisturizer

Regular, timely applications of moisturizer are the final secret to avoiding dry skin from frequent handwashing. While the name suggests that moisturizers replenish moisture in your skin, they work by replacing surface oils, thus helping your skin retain moisture from within.

After every handwashing, while your hands are still a little damp, apply a thick moisturizer. The most effective moisturizers are creams and ointments — the ones that come in a tube or a jar. These work better than lotions or products that come in a pump bottle. Remember that you’re replacing your skin’s natural surface oils, not only trying to make your skin feel moist. Look for ingredients like petrolatum, mineral oil, glycerin, or lanolin. If you have sensitive skin, choose a fragrance-free product and check the ingredients for chemicals that could cause irritation.

Extra Care for Irritated Skin

If gentle washing and applications of moisturizer aren’t enough, and your hands are still dry, itchy, or flaking, you might try an extra overnight moisturizing treatment. At bedtime, apply a thick moisturizer to your hands, then put on cotton gloves to keep it in place. Petroleum jelly or petrolatum (the primary ingredient in Vaseline®) works well for this. Look for moisturizing cotton gloves where you buy your skincare products.

Learn More About Skin Rejuvenation in Los Angeles

Dr. Stephen Bresnick in Encino, CA, is one of the most sought-after and extensively trained plastic surgeons in the Los Angeles area. SILK, his practice’s medical spa, provides state-of-the-art skincare treatments. Call us at (818) 981-8888 or contact us today to schedule your consultation!

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