Hand washing: Tips to prevent skin irritation

By Megan Wehring

Hand washing, sanitizing and disinfecting. It’s become the new normal. What happens when the new normal causes skin issues?

To prevent transmission of the coronavirus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is advised especially after being in a public space, or after coughing and sneezing.

Dermatologists treat frequent cases of hand dermatitis year-round. Dr. Tyler Hollmig, director of dermatologic surgery at Ascension Texas, said more patients have been coming in for hand dermatitis than ever before.

“With COVID, the number of cases of hand irritation and hand dermatitis we’re seeing has just been skyrocketing,” Hollmig said. “It’s for good reason.”

While hand washing is important and most people are doing their part, Hollmig recommends using cold or lukewarm water to protect the skin barrier from breaking down.

“When we wash our hands, especially with hot water and harsh soaps, it can strip the outer layer of skin and remove water from the skin,” Hollmig said. “The outer layer of skin functions as a water barrier to keep the skin moist. If that’s disrupted, we lose water and hands can get really dry.”

Skin irritation is a common issue in the summer and winter months. It will flare up in the winter because of the humidity in the air that will ultimately lead to dry skin. Summer temperatures can also cause excessive sweating and itching, leaving the skin irritated.

After washing hands for the recommended time period, Hollmig advises using a fragrance-free moisturizer to keep the skin barrier intact.

“Using a moisturizer actually helps reduce the risk of many kinds of infections simply by helping the skin barrier stay strong, rather than be destroyed by repetitive cycles of hand washing,” Hollmig said.

Hollmig also said using a thicker moisturizer at night can help hands have a more relaxing and soft consistency in the morning.

“When patients do have hand dermatitis, one thing that I’ve found helpful is to use a thick moisturizer, like a Vaseline, at night and then put socks on your hands,” Hollmig said.

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