Washing our hands is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of infectious diseases, like Covid-19. That’s the advice that has been drummed into us by major health bodies and governments. But for those with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis on our hands, washing our hands extra diligently can aggravate the skin even more. I’m prone to eczema on my hands, and they have worsened A LOT more during the pandemic.
Washing my hands and sanitizing day after day has caused my hands to become itchy, dry, and cracked. I also have a tendency to scratch my hands in my sleep which has caused them to occasionally draw blood and skin to split even more.
I spoke to Dr. Mary Sommerlad, Consultant Dermatologist & British Skin Foundation spokesperson, and she explained what happens to our hands when we wash and sanitize them frequently, even for people with healthy skin:
“With repeated washing with soap and water, the skin barrier becomes compromised leading to easy irritation and eventually contact irritant eczema.”
She stresses that “the most effective way to eliminate Covid-19 is with soap and water, washing hands for at least 20 seconds” but to prevent damage to our hands, she recommends that we moisturize with cream-based emollients after each hand wash, in order to maintain the integrity of the skin barrier.
As water is naturally drying to the skin, applying a moisturizer throughout the day is the most effective way of repairing your hands, giving them the extra attention they deserve. Put it this way – we wouldn’t wash our face without moisturizing, why are we treating our hands that way?
As there’s an abundance of choice when it comes to creams, moisturizers, and emollients, I asked Dr. Sommerlad the ingredients we should look out for when it comes to selecting a suitable moisturizer.
“Emollients and moisturizers should be cream based rather than a lotion”, Dr. Sommerlad says, “Look for multi-tasking products that contain hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides which will help maintain water in the skin and restore the skin barrier. Glycerin is a fantastic humectant (great at preserving moisture). Shea butter is a great emollient and is often added to many skincare products”.
As well as moisturizing, Dr. Sommerlad highlighted other things to look out for when it comes to protecting our hands:
Choose your hand wash carefully:
“Look for SLS free foaming hand washing that contains skin barrier restoring properties such as ceramides and niacinamide.” SLS (sodium laureth sulfate) is a chemical often used in cosmetics and cleaning products that are drying, and therefore an agent more irritable to those with skin conditions, so avoid SLS where possible.
Check the percentage of ethanol in your hand sanitizer:
“Look for hand sanitizers that contain the correct amount of ethanol (alcohol) – a minimum of 60% but also contains moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin.”
Wear gloves inside and outside:
“Wear warm gloves when outside in the winter. When washing up or doing any form of wet work, do wear washing up gloves.”
Seek help if your hands get worse:
“If irritant eczema occurs it will present as itchy thickened/ roughened patches of skin. See your GP or Dermatologist as you may need a course of topical steroids to dampen down the inflammation.”
Hand washing and sanitizing are vital in the fight against Covid-19, this is something we shouldn’t stop doing at all.
Nevertheless, when it comes to tending to your hands, be watchful of what you use to wash or sanitize and remember to moisturize after each wash.
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