With news of more and more possible cases of the new coronavirus in the U.S., now is the time to get your handwashing game on point. But all that washing might also have you worrying aboutor dealing withan incredibly common skin issue: dry, itchy, red, painful skin on your hands.
So we spoke to experts about how to manage and heal those dry, cracked hands in the safest way possible.
Dry skin happens on your hands for basically the same reasons it happens elsewhere on your body, Shari Marchbein, M.D., dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine, tells SELF.
The outer protective layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, helps seal hydration into the skin. Its made up of skin cells, which act like bricks, and lipids (fats), which act like mortar. So, if theres something wrong with the skin barrieryoure losing lipids, for instancethen moisture will be more likely to escape from the skin.
When you wash your hands, youre literally drawing moisture out of the skin and stripping it of the natural healthy fats that are supposed to be there, Dr. Marchbein says. And things like using hot water, using harsh antibacterial soaps, and not moisturizing afterward can make all of that worse.
On the milder end, you might feel like the skin on your hands is red, dry, tight, or a little itchy. But on the more severe end, you can experience a lot of irritation, intense itchiness, and even cracks in the skin, which can actually increase your risk for infection. People who are prone to eczema may even need prescription topical treatments to manage symptoms like these.
So, yes, its great that youre being diligent about washing your hands. But if you dont also take some precautions, your hands will not be happy with you.
Here are some easy, expert-approved ways to keep your hands clean and moisturized.
1. Use gentle hand soaps.
Hand washes with antibacterial ingredients as well as alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be especially harsh and drying on your skin, Dr. Marchbein says.
Plus, you dont really need to use those types of soaps to get rid of germsthe friction created by the mechanical act of washing of your hands as well as the surfactant cleaning ingredients in the soaps is what actually removes the microbes from your hands. Although our understanding of how the new coronavirus spreads and how to protect ourselves from it is still developing, regularly washing your hands with soap and water (especially before touching your face and before/after eating) is one of a few tried-and-true public health strategies the CDC is recommending right now to prevent the spread of this particular virus.
So, yes, that does mean that actually washing your hands correctlyand for at least 20 secondsis absolutely necessary.
2. Wash with lukewarm water.
Washing your hands with water thats excessively hot or cold is, simply, uncomfortable. Plus, using hot water is an easy way to dry out your skin even more, Dr. Marchbein says. Thats why she recommends using a comfortable lukewarm water temperature.
3. Put hand cream on slightly damp hands.
After washing, dry your hands, but not fully. When theyre still a little bit damp, thats the perfect time to use your hand cream, Dr. Marchbein says, because youll be helping to seal that water into the skin.
However, try not to use communal hand creams if you can help it, James D. Cherry, M.D., M.Sc., distinguished research professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and attending physician for pediatric infectious diseases at Mattel Childrens Hospital UCLA, tells SELF, because these can easily become contaminated. Instead, its worth buying and keeping your own personal hand cream with you or at your desk, he says. (Personally, this writer prefers these K-beauty hand creams for their portability, absorption, and lovely scents.)
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