When Hand Washing Hurts – How to Deal with Dry Skin during Covid-19

Now that we have all upped our hand-washing game, a side effect is starting to emerge: dry, chapped skin on our hands.

It is important to continue washing your hands often during the pandemic for your protection and that of others, but all of that scrubbing and hand sanitizer can give you dermatitis, the medical term for what happens when all that hand-washing causes your hands to become red, irritated, itchy, cracked and even bleed. If you don’t normally experience eczema on your hands, you might develop it. If you do, it’s likely to get worse.

Here are some tips for preventing overly-dry skin while staying also healthy during Covid-19.

  1. Apply moisturizer after every hand-washing. The best way to combat the dry skin that comes with frequent hand washing is to use a quality moisturizer after each cleansing. Scrubbing with soap removes the skin’s moisture barrier along with dirt and germs. By applying a moisturizer, you are adding some defenses back in.
  2. Avoid products with fragrances and dyes. A mild, fragrance-free soap is your best bet for reducing irritation to your skin. The moisturizer you use should also be free of fragrances and dyes. These chemicals do nothing to hydrate your skin and will only exacerbate skin problems.
  3. Use warm water, not hot. Hot water is drying and inflammatory to skin. Washing hands with warm water and soap is just as effective.
  4. Check the ingredient list. When choosing a moisturizer, look for words like “eczema therapy” or “for dry skin.” The products should include hydrating ingredients like glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil, or petrolatum (petroleum jelly). Frankly, although it isn’t fancy, petroleum jelly by itself is an inexpensive and highly effective moisturizer.
  5. Ointments or creams are better than lotions. Lotions tend to be watered down and full of unwanted ingredients. When in doubt, go for the product in the tube rather than the product in the pump.
  6. Natural moisturizers work, too. Some of your regular pantry items can work as hand moisturizers. Vegetable shortening, coconut oil, or shea butter are all great natural options. Avoid olive oil, which is not great for your skin.
  7. Moisturize after using hand sanitizer. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers create even more of a drying effect than soap and water, but they are crucial when hand washing isn’t an option. To counteract their drying effect, apply moisturizer to your hands immediately after the sanitizer dries.
  8. Overindulge at night. Greasier moisturizers might not be ideal during the day, but they can do their work overnight without getting in your way. Apply a thick moisturizer to your hands right before you go to bed and cover with cotton gloves.
  9. Use a humidifier. Running a humidifier overnight can raise the overall humidity level in your bedroom, which will help your skin retain moisture.
  10. Keep an eye on cracks. If your skin is broken from dryness and chapping, it puts you at higher risk for infections. See your dermatologist if in doubt.

Whatever you do, don’t stop washing your hands. It’s your best defense against contracting and spreading Covid-19. We’re all in this together.

For more information, visit the CDC handwashing website at: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html.