5 Dermatologist-Approved Ways to Prevent Dryness from Overwashing Hands
Since the introduction of the Coronavirus, the number one suggestion for preventing the spread and keeping ourselves and others safe has been frequent hand washing.
The CDC recommends washing as often as possible and for a 20-second minimum, washing in between the fingers and the backs of hands to ensure all germs are properly removed.
In the absence of soap and water (or often in addition) we’re now using more antibacterial cleaners, wipes and hand gels than ever. We’re also spending more time indoors, often with forced air and not much humidity.
This combination of harsh cleaning agents and extreme exposures is leaving many of us with rough, dry hands. When hands get dramatically dry, they also have a tendency to crack, making us even more susceptible to germs and infection. Meaning that dry hands are not only uncomfortable, but they can be dangerous, too.
To understand how to prevent and treat extreme dryness while still adhering to the CDC’s recommendations for staying safe, we interviewed Dr. Ronald Moy of Moy Fincher Chipps Dermatology and Facial Plastics.
1. Switch to a Fragrance-Free Soap
Although it may smell nice in the moment, the “fragrance” ingredient can be highly allergenic for many people, causing mild to severe reactions such as redness and itching. These chemicals can also lead to dry skin in varying degrees.
2. Avoid (Some) Bar Soaps
Bar soaps often use binders with a high pH that can be drying, which is why skincare experts typically recommend avoiding bar soaps for your face. When washing frequently, these binders can also cause extra dryness on your hands. Even Sodium-Chloride, a salt derivative recognized as “safe” by the EWG, can be drying, as salt naturally absorbs moisture.
Make sure to look for simple, natural ingredients with extra moisturizers if you do choose to use bar soap.
3. Moisturize Frequently
The frequency of application is just as important as the type of moisturizer you use. Moisturizing immediately after washing hands can help to trap in extra moisture before it is lost. Applying frequently throughout the day and double layering with a heavier formula at nighttime can help to build and retain moisture.
4. Wear Gloves
This tip applies both to wearing gloves as protection from the cold and dryness when outside, and also wearing gloves to bed at night. Applying a thick layer of cream or ointment to hands and sealing in the moisture with gloves overnight is a great way to increase the effectiveness of the product itself.
5. Check Your Hand Sanitizer’s Ingredients
Hand sanitizer can dry out skin due to the alcohol content. If possible, look for a sanitizer that is not alcohol or petrolatum-based.
Stay Safe and Healthy With These Moisturizing Ingredients
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also suggests the following ingredients to be among the most moisturizing for dry hands. All of them score a low 1-3 rating on toxicity by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
- petrolatum (a.k.a. petroleum jelly)
- mineral oil
- shea butter
- dimethicone (a type of silicone)
- hyaluronic acid
- lactic acid (note: may sting when applied to broken skin)
While it is always important to consider ingredients when shopping for any product that goes on your skin, in this case it is equally important to consider the frequency of use. When in doubt, apply sparingly, and always look for products containing simple, natural ingredients.
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The CDC has specifically stated hand sanitizers for use against COVID-19 are to be 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol alcohol. I realize this might be intended to be a “general” guide to dry hands, but the reason we’re all overwashing right now is specifically related to COVID-19. If you’re going to publish a guide in answer to that, giving potentially deadly advice to avoid alcohol containing hand sanitizers is pretty foolish. I’d rather have dry hands than COVID-19. In general, better advice would be to choose hand washing over hand sanitizers whenever possible, both because hand washing is less drying and because hand washing is better against COVID-19 when done appropriately.
“Hand sanitizer can dry out skin due to the alcohol content. If possible, look for a sanitizer that is not alcohol or petrolatum-based.”
The CDC recommends only using alcohol based hand sanitizer (it prominently says that on the cdc page the article links to!). It’s the most effective against viruses (many other hand sanitizers are just antibacterial) and the best for the environment as there’s no risk of increasing antibacterial resistance.
The best way to not have hand sanitizer dry out your hands is to not use it at all when it’s possible to wash with soap and water, which the CDC says is more effective anyways (again, it says that on the CDC page the article links to). Using non-alcohol hand sanitizer when soap and water are available is less hygienic *and* less skin-friendly *and* worse for the environment.
At the beginning of the article you talk about antibacterial wipes. You should be referring to sanitizing wipes. Covid-19 is not a bacteria it is a virus. So antibacterial soap is no better than regular soap. And you need sanitizing wipes with alcohol content or other sanitizer that has been shown to kill covid-19.
The same goes for hand sanitizer. The CDC has only stated 60%+alcohol content being useful for hand sanitizer against COVID-19. So if you are not using an alcohol based hand sanitizer you are not protecting yourself.
Hey Natalie, thank you for writing this article! I understand your intentions and I think they’re great. We appreciate the thought 🙂