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Published on May 19, 2020

How are your hands holding up to all that washing?

Hand Care & COVID-19

Well of course you always washed your hands regularly, right?

But over these past few months, you’ve likely been hitting the soap and water with extra frequency and urgency. Your hands are clean, very clean … but maybe your skin is taking a bit of a beating.

“We can’t overstate the importance of washing hands to remove germs,” said Sasha D. Girouard, MD, a dermatologist who practices at Cape Cod Dermatology in West Yarmouth.

“By removing germs, we prevent the spread of infections and illnesses, such as COVID-19, to others. You should wash your hands frequently, using both soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“Soaps contain surfactants, which are charged molecules and they help to wash away bacteria or viruses, as well as any dirt or debris on the hands.”

“But the negative result is that they also can strip the skin of the natural oils on the skin and disrupt that barrier.”

What to Do

All that washing can lead to dry skin, said Dr. Girouard. So how can you minimize or reverse the damage? Here is her advice:

  • Skip the hot water – “Any temperature is effective to get rid of the germs, bacteria and viruses that might be on there. I recommend using lukewarm water. Hot water can cause more irritation to your skin, and it isn’t any more effective at preventing infections.”
  • A little rub-a-dub-dub will do – “You want to rub your hands while washing to help get the germs off of the hands, but you don't need to vigorously scrub your hands. That can cause further damage unnecessarily.”
  • Rinse thoroughly and dry gently – “Soap residue on the skin can cause irritation. When you're drying, you want to just pat your hands. You don't have to rub them, so kind of in the similar vein of not scrubbing when you're washing. Try to avoid air drying because that can further cause dryness and irritation.”

Saving Your Skin

Dr. Girouard recommends using moisturizer throughout the day, especially right after you wash your hands and just before going to bed.

“Your hands should be slightly damp before adding the moisturizer because that'll help lock the moisture in,” she said. “Be as generous as you can with the moisturizer.”

Ointments that contain petroleum or mineral oil tend to be more moisturizing than water-based lotions, she said. Because they’re thicker than lotions, ointments typically come in a tube or jar, rather than a pump bottle.”

“If an ointment's too greasy for what you're doing, say you’re working and you can't have greasy hands, then a thick cream would be the next best thing,” she said.

She recommends Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream, Eucerin Cream, CeraVe cream, Cetaphil cream, or Vanicream.

“An emollient will soak in even more if you cover your hands with cotton gloves after you put it on. You can do that overnight or for a few hours when you're watching TV at night.”

Cracked skin is cause for concern because bacteria can enter the skin and cause an infection, said Dr. Girouard. “If your skin's cracked, you should use an ointment and the ointment we recommend the most is just plain old Vaseline. The other one that's often helpful is Aquaphor.”

If you’ve tried these tips and your hands are still painful, itchy, cracking or bleeding, then you should ask your primary care doctor or your dermatologist about additional treatment options, she said.