My hands are red and raw from constant washing!
Sound familiar? Please keep washing your hands, but I feel your pain! Excessive hand washing can strip the skin’s natural oils and protective barrier, leading to dry, cracked, and irritated hands. If your skin’s barrier is compromised and left untreated, it can even lead to atopic dermatitis and more persistent conditions like eczema –especially if your hands come into contact with irritating substances.
1. Use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer
The experts agree that properly washing with soap and warm water is just as effective, if not more, than using hand sanitizer. If you HAVE the option to wash your hands rather than use alcohol based hand sanitizer, choose a gentle, scent free soap. It will be less drying and aggravating to sensitive, cracked skin.
2. Avoid anti-bacterial soaps and harsh surfactants
Ingredients like triclosan and others anti-bacterial agents in soaps are not necessary to thoroughly cleanse your hands from viruses like COVID-19. According to experts, COVID-19 is actually very delicate and has a fatty outer layer that easily breaks apart with proper hand-washing. As long as the soap you’re using suds up, you’re good to go. You can even use a moisturizing body wash!
It’s the suds and scrubbing action that disrupt the chemical bonds keeping viruses and bacteria stuck on surfaces (like your skin). When you scrub up using soap, the unwanted ‘germs’ get washed down the drain with the foamy suds.
3. Apply moisturizer immediately after washing your hands
When water evaporates from the skin, it can take the skin’s natural moisture with it (causing skin to feel even more dry). After washing, pat your hands dry but leave them slightly damp. This will leave moisture on the skin which you can lock in by applying a cream or balm immediately on top.
4. Use emollient creams and ointments
The most ideal hand treatment to use will soften rough and flaky skin, while protecting it from moisture loss. Emollients do just that by ‘filling in” the spaces between skin cells. Opt for thick creams and ointments that contain a mix of ingredients like plant oils, cacao butter, shea butter, triglycerides, and stearates.
Oil (such as coconut oil) will not be enough on its own. In fact it may further irritate chapped hands. Similarly, thin, watery lotions will also not cut it and offer very little relief.
5. Use unscented products on chapped, irritated skin
If your hands are already very dry, chapped and irritated, opt to use unscented or “fragrance-free” soap and lotion. Fragrance and essential oils can aggravate skin further, especially if eczema and atopic dermatitis is at play. It’s actually the number one cause of sensitivities and allergies in skincare.
6. Treat your hands at night
Use sleep time as your chance to give your hands a break from soap and give them an intensive moisture boost. Before going to bed, apply a thick cream or balm on damp hands and cover with cotton gloves to increase absorption. If patches of eczema or red rashes have formed, apply a zinc based cream over top of the moisturizer to calm inflammation and redness.