You’ve probably heard the recommendation several times by now: if you want to avoid getting sick, wash your hands more often.
Indeed, proper hand-washing is seen as the primary way to avoid contracting any sort of virus, including the coronavirus. Now that more people are getting sick with the coronavirus in our country, we’re all turning to the sink more often, which is a good thing when it comes to avoiding germs—but a bad thing when it comes to the health of your skin.
Frequent handwashing and increased use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can help you avoid catching a bug, but without the proper care, it can also lead to dry, flaky, chapped, cracked, and bleeding skin.
This isn’t only unsightly and uncomfortable—it’s also dangerous. When your skin starts to suffer this way, the outer barrier becomes compromised, which can leave you more vulnerable to catching a virus.
To keep the germs away without compromising the health of your skin, we’ve got some tips for you below.
Healthcare Workers Know How Handwashing Tears Up the Skin
To most of us, more frequent handwashing is something we have to remind ourselves to do during the cold and flu season—and during an outbreak like the coronavirus. But healthcare workers subject their hands to this harsh treatment every day.
Part of the job for healthcare workers is following strict hand hygiene rules. They must wash with either an alcohol-based rub or soap and water immediately before touching a patient, before handling invasive medical devices, after touching a patient, after contact with bodily fluids, before moving from a soiled to a clean body site, and on and on. Pretty much every time they turn around.
This is necessary to avoid germ transfer for a single patient, from patient to patient, and from patient to healthcare worker or vice versa.
Unfortunately, all this handwashing and hand sanitizing leaves many healthcare workers with eczema or contact dermatitis. Studies show that these conditions are much more prevalent among healthcare workers than the general public, affecting about a third of them.
This happens because all that handwashing and exposure to alcohol-based sanitizers disrupts the outer layer of skin. This is a protective layer that keeps moisture in and germs out, so it’s important for healthy skin and a healthy body. The more damaged that outer layer, the less likely your skin is to protect you from germs and the more likely you are to suffer from dermatitis and other skin issues.
Frequent handwashing and hand sanitizing may result in the following symptoms:
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- Scaly skin
- Cracked skin
- Painful skin
- Blistered skin
This can be debilitating for healthcare workers, as each handwashing tends to make the situation worse. Some workers have to take time off just to heal their hands.
As you step up your personal hygiene to avoid getting sick, you may notice some of these same symptoms showing up in your skin. If so, it’s time to address them to protect your skin and your health.
How to Kill Germs and Protect Your Hands
1. Use lukewarm water.
It’s tempting to use hot water to kill those germs, but hot water strips away the natural lipids in your skin and further breaks down the skin barrier. Choose lukewarm water and soap—it will do the job to get rid of germs without damaging your skin as much.
2. Don’t rely on alcohol-free sanitizers.
Typically, we would recommend alcohol-free sanitizers as they lack the barrier-disrupting properties of alcohol, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that these are not likely to work against the coronavirus. They recommend using sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol when you can’t wash your hands.
Alcohol-free sanitizers often rely on benzalkonium chloride to kill germs, but the CDC says this ingredient doesn’t kill germs as well as alcohol. It may help reduce growth, so it’s better than nothing, but in the end, to kill these new germs, you have to use alcohol.
3. Use moisturizing, fragrance-free soaps.
Use soaps with moisturizer in them when washing your hands. If choosing bar soap, Dove is a good option as it’s gentler than most bar soaps and even than many liquid soaps, but no matter which one you choose, look at the ingredient deck to see what you’re getting. Many cheap liquid soaps contain only sulfates and other surfactants and will leave your skin parched for moisture. Look for options with glycerin or other moisturizers in them.
Whatever soap you use, avoid those with fragrance and alcohol, as they can be more drying.
4. Carry moisturizer everywhere.
The key to avoiding dry and damaged skin is to apply moisturizer after every cleansing. That means you need to carry a moisturizer with you wherever you go. If your hands are already dry and cracking, you need to get serious about your moisturizer. Choose those with natural oils and butters that will help heal damaged skin.
We recommend our Restorative Skin Balm. It helps restore that protective barrier and keep your skin shielded from irritants. It also contains our exclusive Tri-Rescue Complex—a blend of turmeric, alpha-bisabolol and reishi mushroom—which all help tame inflammation, kill microbes, and encourage skin repair.
5. Wear gloves more often.
Gloves protect your hands from the environment, and can also protect you from transferring germs from your hands to your face. Your skin will be better able to retain moisture if you regularly wear gloves, plus you may be able to wash less often because you’re not soiling your hands in the first place.
Apply moisturizer before putting on your gloves and you can help your hands heal. Do remember to wash your gloves frequently as germs can live on surfaces for several hours to several days.
6. Wear cotton gloves to bed.
In addition to wearing gloves during the day, you can also help your hands to heal faster by wearing a pair of cotton ones overnight. Apply a thick layer of our Restorative Skin Balm, follow with our Body Repair Lotion or Calming Moisture, then put on the gloves and wear them overnight. Your body conducts most of its repair while you’re sleeping—you will wake up with softer, more comfortable hands.
7. Pat dry and skip blow dryers.
When drying your hands, blot gently instead of rubbing. Rubbing—particularly with a rough paper towel—can worsen dryness or even cause damaged skin to break open. That hot water coming out of the blow dryers can be even worse when it comes to damaging that outer layer of skin. Some studies have shown that blow dryers blow germs around more than towels do, too.
Blot or pat dry your hands with a towel if you can. If there are no towels, you may be able to use a wad of tissue the same way. If neither is available, shake the water from your hands and allow them to air dry. It’s not great, but it’s better than a blow dryer.
Finally, don’t forget to apply moisturizer—every time!
Have you suffered dry skin because of frequent handwashing?