The combination of dry weather and frequent handwashing or hand sanitizing can really wreak havoc on your skin. For those of us in the healthcare profession, we’re cleansing our hands before and after seeing each patient in order to prevent the spread of germs from one patient to the next. For those of us who do chores like dishwashing, laundry, cooking, and for those parents who are taking care of kids and pets, we have even more reason to be handwashing.
So what do you do about the dry, irritated, red, cracked skin that can result?
1) If you don’t need to be cleansing your hands, then don’t. This sounds silly, but excess water exposure will dry your skin out. While it’s important to maintain good hand hygiene, if you don’t have a need to be washing your hands, then don’t.
2) Use lukewarm water instead of steaming hot water. A pet peeve of mine are those automatic faucets which pipe out steaming hot water and there’s no way to change the temperature.
3) Pat dry instead of rubbing your skin dry. You needn’t scrub away your skin after handwashing.
4) Follow up your handwashing with a moisturizer. Being a dermatologist, I have little sample-sized hand moisturizers at my desk that I use after washing my hands and whenevermy hands feel dry. (Remember that episode of Grey’s Anatomy where they showed all the dermatologists moisturizing? Well, that’s not all that we do…!)
5) If you suspect you could be having an allergic or irritant reaction to your hand sanitizer, try a hypoallergenic one such as this one from VMV Hypoallergenics. They added moisturizer to their hand sanitizer!
6) Wear gloves if you can to protect your skin while doing chores. I like the really inexpensive clear plastic food handler’s gloves to lightweight chores.
What tips do you have for preventing dry irritated skin on your hands?
Have you ever noticed that the more you scratch, the more a spot itches? That in turn leads you to scratch even more, and thus you get the vicious itch-scratch cycle.
This vicious itch-scratch cycle also makes eczema worse. While you might think sheer will could interrupt this cycle, that is actually a very tall order. For any of you who have eczema, or have had a bad bug bite, you know what I mean.
So what can you do about it?
– Treat the itch. Work with your doctor to find the right combination of prescription and non-prescription methods to treat the itch. These may include topical medications and pills too.
– Create a barrier. Wraps over an offending area can create a barrier. Similarly, gloves over the fingers can help.
– Decrease the trauma of your scratching by keeping your fingernails short. This will also help keep your nails from cutting open your skin, which can increase the likelihood of an infection.
What other methods have worked for you?
It’s amazing what havoc a simple change of the weather can wreak. As our days and nights in the Northeast have gotten drier and cooler, I’ve noticed that my skin is needing more moisturizer to stay supple and comfortable. More of my patients are also coming back with flares of their eczema. Accompanying the eczema is dry skin.
So what is one key step to battling eczema and dry skin? Moisturizing! By moisturizing, we put the hydration back into the skin. Some of us have a genetic predisposition to getting dry skin. Others of us have occupations which may lead to frequent washing and dry skin. And for all of us, the inevitability of time and age also leads to a decreased ability to keep our skin supple.
So what is the proper way to moisturize? And how do you choose a moisturizer?
Well, if you are coming out of a bath or if you just washed your hands, then you want to pat dry instead of rubbing dry. Immediately put on a fragrance-free hypo-allergenic moisturizing cream or ointment. Creams tend to be thick and white while ointments tend to be greasier like Vaseline ointment. Lotions tend to be watery and less effective of a “sealant.” Slather on your moisturizing cream liberally.
Throughout the day, you can re-apply your moisturizer as needed.
For those hard to reach areas, you may need someone to help you apply your moisturizer or get a moisturizer applicator.
What is your favorite moisturizer?
Experience of a First-time Mom of Eczema Baby
Being a first-time mom is already a huge challenge and having an infant with eczema only made it tougher. We first noted rashes on my baby Marcie’s face at two weeks old and she’s diagnosed with eczema at her one-month checkup.
I would say the challenges were manifold, truly blood and sweat type!
Mental & Emotional
“Sleep like a Baby” – this phrase hardly described how my baby slept since her rashes came at 2 weeks old till date! Those days and nights which I had to swaddle her, hold her hands and co-sleep (we’re still co-sleeping!) were truly stressful. It’s about worrying about blood from baby’s scratching even when you’re taking a pee, and half the time, I try not to. For the first time ever, my dentist said my teeth were dirty as I often cut short my brushing to hold my baby’s hands!
Other emotions like blame and resentment could easily creep in – either with spouse not doing enough or contributing the ‘eczema gene’ or with (very often) your closest family and friends who don’t understand eczema and offer miracle cure or insinuate it’s due to the mom’s negligent care.
For the parents, it’s more of fatigue and stress. For the baby, it’s the lack of sleep and constant irritation. Allergy tests aren’t accurate before the baby is at least 6 month old, so very often, pediatricians will recommend switching to hypoallergenic milk formula or for moms who are breast-feeding, you’ll start to wonder if it’s anything in your diet. My baby did not take well to the formula switch, and I faced huge drop in milk feed (and huge rise in worry), colic and reflux for her.
MarcieMom’s Top Three Baby Eczema Tips
Managing eczema requires being a multi-tasking mom – there are so many factors to look out for! To make it less stressful, let’s concentrate on the top 3:
- Once your baby reaches 6-month old, take an allergy test
Once my baby took hers at 7-month old, it really helped A LOT! First, we found out she’s not allergic to anything, so we could feed her solids without worrying about which food triggers her eczema. Second, we could stop being paranoid about everything, such as too much dust or walking past a cat or a dog in the park. You can read more about allergy test, including my Q&As with leading doctors in Singapore here.
- Moisturize like crazy!
Moisturize lots, within three minutes after shower and at every diaper change and do use a lotion or cream that does not contain the top allergens. You can click here to learn about reading label of sensitive skincare products. There are also studies showing that moisturizing reduces the severity of eczema and may help to prevent the allergic march.
- Don’t be steroid-phobic!
I know this would draw flak from some but truly, eczema needs to be managed and part of that management, is the application of topical steroid. Steroid has to be used under doctor’s supervision, who will advice the frequency and the strength of steroid. I was once steroid-phobic but realized that it’s so much more practical to quickly treat the eczema rash rather than let my baby suffer the itch, inflammation and damage to skin from scratching. To learn more about steroids, read here.
Hope above will help to prepare a first-time parent for baby’s eczema and whenever you feel stressed, drop by my blog to read the cartoons, 101 things that Moms with Eczema Child do Differently!
Mei, also known as Marcie Mom (on twitter), has baby girl Marcie who had eczema from two weeks old. Mei runs a blog, EczemaBlues.com, a comprehensive and light-hearted resource for parents with eczema children. Mei is also the co-chairperson of Singapore’s Eczema Support Group and has initiated an eczema fund for low-income patients in Singapore. Mei has also published a wonderful children’s picture book, called “A to Z Animals Are Not Scratching!”.