One of the best defenses against the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 is hand-washing. But frequent rubbing and scrubbing can take its toll, depleting the skin of its natural moisture and oils.
So what should you do if your hands are becoming raw, dry and irritated with constant washing?
When washing your hands
First, it’s ideal to use a soap that is hypoallergenic, free of irritants and perfumes, said Dr. Dawn Davis, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist. Also, soap in bar form tends to have fewer chemicals and more moisture content.
Next, Davis recommends washing in comfortably warm water — not scalding hot water. Scrub between your fingers, including your thumbs, under your rings, the back of your hands and around your wrists. The same is true when rinsing.
“People forget about that and then soap residue stays between the digits or lies on the backs of the wrists and, over time, will get an irritant dermatitis from the soap residue that’s there,” Davis said.
When drying your hands
Pat your hands dry instead of rubbing or scrubbing, Davis recommends.
“I would suggest using linen, such as a cotton towel, over a paper towel,” she said. “But using either a paper or cotton towel is preferable to letting the hands air dry. Air drying only lets the skin dry out more due to diffusion and evaporation of moisture off the skin, and then if you shake your hands dry you might contaminate surfaces if you happen to have any germs left on your skin.”
Apply an allergen-free or hypo-allergenic lotion or cream to the skin, and rub it in gently, making sure to get between the digits and include the wrists.
“If you don’t feel that your hands are moist enough, simply wait 30 seconds to a minute, then reapply,” Davis said. “If you think your skin needs more help, you could apply a cream or a lotion first. Then use an ointment on your second application to seal it in like a roof. That allows sort of a greenhouse effect.”
Davis says there are patients with sensitive skin who are having dermatitis flares. And there are also those who didn’t know they had sensitive skin, until they started the extra hand-washing regimen.
Davis recommends putting a single or double layer of lotion or cream on your hands, ideally before bed. Cover those layers with an ointment, like petroleum jelly. Then put a cotton sock over your hands and wrists, for the night.
The ‘skin burrito’
If you’ve tried layered moisturizing and it isn’t helping, Davis recommends kicking it up a notch. “Something that in dermatology we call a wet dressing, and, with my patients, I’ve nicknamed the ‘skin burrito.’”
Before bed, wash your hands and pat them dry. Put on two layers of your thickest, most effective hypoallergenic lotion or cream — not ointments. Ointments won’t absorb into the skin. Put a teaspoon of white vinegar into a glass or small bowl of warm water, and soak two clean washcloths. Wring them out and wrap around your hands. Cover your hands with socks.
“The vinegar helps adjust the pH, which keeps the skin clean,” Davis said. “The heat, or the warmth, allows the pores to open up and allows the extra lotion to soak deeper into the skin more effectively.”
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