Whether it’s a need to do chores involving water, due to one’s occupation, or just a habit, frequent handwashing can lead to irritated skin of the hands. The hands become dry and stripped of their natural protective oils. Irritant dermatitis is the name of the rash which often ensues from frequent handwashing — it is a type of rash that occurs as a result of direct physical, mechanical or chemical trauma from an outside culprit. The most frequent culprit is handwashing. Between the soap and the water, the damage is done. Skin becomes dry and rough, and can become variable degrees of pink/red.
So how can you prevent irritated hands from frequent handwashing?
– First, if it’s not necessary, then don’t wash your hands. This is not to mean that you should not wash your hands when they are dirty or soiled. You should! Handwashing is important in preventing spread of germs. However, if you find yourself excessively handwashing, figure out if you can cut back.
– Although hot water helps cleanse the hands more readily of microbes, they can also strip the skin’s oils more readily. Depending on how germy your hands are, you may considering using lukewarm or cold water to wash as opposed to hot water.
– Limit the amount of time you are washing. Do not wash for an excessively long time.
– Pat dry instead of rubbing dry.
– Follow up with a moisturizer.
– If all else fails, see a medical professional such as a dermatologist for help. If your rash is particularly bad, prescription medicated creams or ointments may be helpful.
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?