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Dry Hands: How to Take Care of Them During COVID-19

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During this global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, you’re doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the disease according to the many public advisories in place. 

You’re staying inside, you’re keeping a safe distance from anyone you may pass during necessary trips to the grocery store, and you’re sanitizing and washing your hands about 50 times a day to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

But all that washing is taking its toll on your hands. You look down to a pair of scaly, ashy, and in some more serious cases, dry, cracked hands that resemble something out of medical mystery video on Youtube. What’s needing saving right now are your dry hands.

What Causes Dry Hands?

What causes dry hands? According to Dr. Justin Ko, Chief of Medical Dermatology at Stanford Health Care, hand washing effectively will wash away dirt and germs, but the process also strips away natural oils that your skin produces which results in dry hands.

Of course, some people are genetically born with extremely dry skin already, so hand sanitizer and soap is going to really exacerbate this issue. 

Why Do Hand Sanitizer and Soap Dry Out Hands?

Hand sanitizer has approximately 60% alcohol content that also helps clean dirt and germs, but is not as effective as washing your hands for at least 20 seconds in thoroughly getting rid of germs and dirt, says Dr. Ko. 

He goes on to say that “alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which kill the microbes on skin without removing any debris, irritate hands less than soap,” which can result in dry cracked hands.

If left untreated, skin issues like tightening, dryness, redness, itching, flaking, discomfort and in severe cases, cracked skin on fingers and joints will occur, according to Sara Hogan, MD, a dermatologist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. 

Skin crack on fingers or anywhere on your dry hands are especially dangerous because that can lead to infections getting in. This may also lead to people washing their hands less due to the discomfort and irritation caused by washing and not caring for the skin afterwards. That is why prevention is key when taking care of your skin, because it’s much easier to prevent dry hands by maintaining your skin’s moisture barrier than to heal already cracked skin.

How to Treat Dry Hands

The best way to treat dry hands is to ensure you’re retaining moisture after you’ve sanitized or washed your hands. When choosing soaps, you want something gentle and fragrance-free.  Your skin and hands are delicate and don’t need the type of soap that you would use to wash the grease off a pan you just used to fry your eggs with. Dr. Stevenson, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health, suggests that “once you’ve washed your hands for at least 20 seconds, you should pat them dry rather than rubbing them, which can irritate the skin.”

Once your hands are dried until they are slightly damp, lock in the moisture with a hand cream or moisturizer. It can be a little overwhelming to choose from all the moisturizing products out there, but Dr. Ko suggests hand creams over lotion because “Lotions, which are primarily water-based, can further dry out the skin because the water evaporates, he says. 

Creams, which are often oil-based, are more effective after washing hands.” Washing your hands and then moisturizing is equally essential when it comes to taking care of your dry hands.

When considering what to look for when purchasing hand creams and moisturizers, you want to look for products with occlusives like petroleum jelly, mineral oil, shea butter, lanolin, or dimethicone (a type of silicone). Products with occlusives tend to be oil-based and prevent moisture loss from the skin’s surface.

These occlusives are often paired with emollient and humectant ingredients that help the oil-based product absorb more easily into your skin and repair dry hands.  An example of a popular and effective occlusive product is Vaseline.  Vaseline is a commonly used household product, used to treat the skin on the lips, the hands, your knees and elbows – anywhere on your body that tends to get chapped or dry.

While treating dry hands, you’ll want to avoid products with ingredients with fragrance. If your hands are already dry, fragrance can often irritate and dry out the skin even more because it is a highly allergenic ingredient, says Tony Nakhla, MD a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Eighth Day. He also explains that fragrance “can cause severe contact dermatitis, red itchy rashes and cause intense skin inflammation, which ages and damages the skin”. 

You can also check out our Korean skincare routine for dry skin for some relief as well.

Dry Hands: What About Disinfectant Wipes?

Another thing that leads to dryness is when the skin comes in contact with cleaning supplies like disinfectant wipes. The harsh chemicals found in the cleaning supplies can also irritate already dry hands and should be handled with gloves, recommends Dr. Ko.

If your dry hands are of the more severe variety or you have chronic dry skin or conditions like eczema, you can try a home remedy as it can be helpful towards treating your dry hands and relieve symptoms. Dr. Ko suggests that before you go to bed, lather on a  thick layer of vaseline, or oil-based hand cream on to the hands. Once the skin is coated, put on a pair of cotton gloves and leave overnight. The gloves will prevent the product on your skin from rubbing away during your sleep and keep all that product where it needs to be. This allows for all the hours of the night for moisture to seep back into the hands so you don’t have to feel like you have the hands of Gollum, from the Lord of the Rings. Good luck!

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