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Dermatology Center for Skin Health PLLC Blog

The Handwashing/Sanitizing Dilemma

[fa icon="calendar"] Apr 22, 2020 2:00:00 PM / by Dr. Michele Maouad

Dr. Michele Maouad

Washing hands for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer is a healthy hygiene practice that everyone should be partaking in, especially right now during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Unfortunately, due to the increase in handwashing and hand sanitizing, you might experience a condition called irritant dermatitis, which includes the following symptoms: 

  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Chapping
  • Itching of the skin 

Maintaining the skin barrier and microflora (healthy skin bacteria) is also an important component of skin health for preventing both dermatitis and infection.

HOW DOES SOAP WORK AGAINST GERMS? 

  •  Soap breaks down the lipid membrane of the virus, causing it to become inactive.
  •  Soap is an alkaline (low acidity) surfactant that picks up particles, including dirt bacteria and viruses, which are removed from the surface of the skin when soaps are rinsed off.

Unfortunately, the process of washing the hands with an alkaline (low acidity) solution affects the skin barrier as well as healthy bacteria of the skin that fends off the harmful bacteria. 

HOW DOES HAND SANITIZER WORK AGAINST GERMS? 

  • Hand sanitizers disrupt cell metabolism causing bacteria or viruses to die. 
  • Ideally, hand sanitizer should contain 60 to 95 percent alcohol because higher concentrations lack water, which is an important ingredient needed to kill the germs. 

Although some hand sanitizers contain aloe or glycerin to prevent skin dryness, their alcohol content can cause the burning of the skin, especially when it is compromised.

WHAT ARE THE STEPS OF HANDWASHING TO AVOID IRRITATION?

The following steps should be taken while washing your hands to prevent irritation:

  1. Remove all jewelry before washing your hands. This will limit the soap build-up under your jewelry. 
  2. When washing your hands, use cold or lukewarm water. Hot water disrupts the skin barrier as well as increases inflammation in the skin.
  3. Rinse all the soap off entirely after you're done. 
  4. Apply a moisturizer directly after washing your hands. This helps protect your skin and replenish the skin barrier.

WHAT IF MY HANDS ARE ALREADY RED AND IRRITATED FROM HANDWASHING/SANITIZING?

Hand washing/sanitizingTo strengthen your skin's barrier and relieve symptoms of dryness, redness and irritation, as well as prevent other infections from over washing and sanitizing, you should use a barrier repair moisturizer. Other hand dermatitis treatment and prevention tips are:

  • Avoid scratching the affected area. This can worsen dermatitis.
  • Apply a barrier repair cream frequently throughout the day to repair the skin.
  • Cover your hands with soft gloves at night to increase hydration and keep the moisturizer from rubbing onto your bedding.

WHAT HAND CREAM IS GOOD FOR CHAPPED HANDS?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you should seek out products that contain ingredients known to soothe dry skin. Many moisturizers combine emollients, occlusives and humectants. The following is a list of examples of each:

Occlusives:

  • Petrolatum (a.k.a. petroleum jelly)
  • Mineral oil*
  • Shea butter*
  • Lanolin*
  • Dimethicone (a type of silicone)*

Humectants:

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin*
  • Lactic acid (note: may sting when applied to broken skin)
  • Urea*

*These ingredients are also considered emollients

You can also try our new hand cream, Rejuvenating Hand Cream. Soothe your chapped or cracked hands with the information outlined above. If your symptoms are severe, talk with your dermatologist about the most effective treatment approach.

If you need to speak with our dermatologists, we are offering telemedicine appointments so that you don't need to leave the comfort of your own home. Please give us a call at (304) 598-3888 or request an appointment here. 

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Topics: COVID19

Dr. Michele Maouad

Written by Dr. Michele Maouad

Board-Certified Dermatologist Dr. Michele Maouad is a highly skilled and experienced American board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon. She completed medical school at West Virginia University and dermatology residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Maouad established her private practice, the Dermatology Center for Skin Health PLLC, in 2005. Dr. Maouad is an advocate for her patients and insures they receive the best dermatologic care. She continually updates her knowledge and skills at national medical conferences to ensure her patients receive only the most current and advanced care.