If you’ve been washing your hands more frequently than usual—and your hands are chapped and cracked—you’re in good company. Many are complaining that all that scrubbin’ is leaving their hands so dry that they’re seeing dermatitis (red, swollen, and irritated skin).
Even when mild, dry skin can be itchy and uncomfortable. As it gets worse, however, it can look scaly, flaky, or “ashy,” or it can even crack and bleed. This is problematic since cracked skin is actually more prone to infection.
However, continuing to wash your hands regularly—despite dry skin and dermatitis—is incredibly important. Pathogens like the novel coronavirus (which causes COVID-19) can be spread through unwashed hands. Learn more about how COVID-19 spreads in humans here.
In other words, keep washing your hands, but incorporate these dry skin-relieving habits:
1. Use warm (not hot) water for washing
Hot water does kill more harmful pathogens than warm or cool water, but the difference is negligible—and it's harsher on the skin. Turn down the temperature for a gentler but still effective wash. Learn more about the right temperature for washing hands here.
2. Pat hands dry with a clean towel (don’t rub)
Rubbing your hands with a towel adds extra irritation, which is the last thing your already sensitive skin needs. Patting and blotting the hands dry is the gentler way to go.
3. Leave hands slightly damp
This helps prepare them for good moisturizing.
4. Immediately moisturize hands and wrists
Within a couple minutes of washing your hands (and avoiding common handwashing mistakes), rehydrate the skin with a moisturizer. This helps lock in the moisture on your skin after a wash, especially if you left your hands a little damp.
Don’t forget to moisturize after using hand sanitizer as well: Alcohol—the primary ingredient in hand sanitizer—can be incredibly drying to the skin.
5. Make sure you’re using the right moisturizer
Creams and ointments hydrate better than lotions, and moisturizers in tubes tend to work better than ones in pump bottles. Lotion has a high water content, which evaporates as it dries and can leave your skin feeling even more chapped. On the other hand, creams and ointments are thicker and use rich oils (like jojoba, mineral, or olive oil) and butters (like shea or cocoa butter) as their hydrating ingredients. This makes them better at creating a barrier on the skin to lock in moisture.
Additionally, it might help to choose creams and ointments that are dye-free and fragrance-free. These extra (and frankly unnecessary) ingredients can just be additional irritants on the skin. Here are more tips for choosing a good moisturizer for dermatitis here.
Clean hands don’t have to be dry hands if you build moisturizing into your routine. Learn more tips for relieving dry skin here.