After the outbreak of Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health experts are recommending the frequent washing of hands by everyone to curb the widespread of the pandemic.
“Whether it be the rapidly escalating corona pandemic or just any given winter, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of infections. Unfortunately, the very soaps and even wringing of hands underwater will also break down the barrier we are trying to protect,” advises Dr. Adam Friedman, professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, during an interview with Healthline.
What is happening to your skin when you frequently wash your hands?
The topmost layer of our skin, stratum corneum, is the skin’s most important protector. But due to often washing of hands with water, soap and cleansers leads to the disruption of this layer. Disruption of stratum corneum is visible as dryness and cracks on the skin. Low levels sebum production by the sebaceous glands could also lead to drying up as sebum provides the skin with moisture binding components. Therefore, also maintain a healthy diet so that your skin does not dry due to other reasons besides frequent washing.
Though frequent washing of hands may keep the germs away, it can end up damaging our skin. Here are a few ways to keep our skin healthy amidst the indispensable frequent hand-washing routine.
- Washing hands with warm water:
We should wash our hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. 20 seconds equals to the time it takes to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice. Make sure to wash properly and thoroughly every side of the hand, including back of hands, wrists, in between the fingers, and also the finger nails.
Experts recommend that we rather use lukewarm water to wash our hands with plenty of soap instead of using hot water. This is because hot water will gradually dry up your hands as it diminishes natural oil levels the skin necessary for it to stay waterproof.
- Using a moisturizing soap:
If you use a regular soap, it can cause to dry and make cracks in your skin. This is why it is better to use soaps that are moisturizing. Select a soap that has creamy consistency and contains ingredients like glycerin and lanolin. Moreover, try avoiding soap bars totally. Soap bars contain binders which have a high pH value, which naturally end up causing more dryness on the skin than a moisturizing soap. Use liquid soaps as they do not dry up the skin like a bar soap. Adding to this, rub your soap gently with the skin to prevent skin damage caused due to rushing up the process.
- Applying a moisturizer
Due to its highly cohesive property, water acts like a magnet and pulls the water from deepest layers of the skin to the surface which then evaporates into atmosphere. This leads the dehydration of the skin and skin becomes even tighter. To avoid this, quickly apply a hand cream on your hands after washing. Use a cream or an ointment rather than a lotion, as lotions have higher water content so they do not block water on the skin from vaporizing.
Moisturizers work because they provide a protective layer and re-instate the normal functioning of the epidermis and fill up the small crevices with scales. They also increase the water level of the epidermis, soothe up the skin and enhance its texture and appearance.
Look out for the following ingredients in your moisturizers:
- Emollients: cyclomethicone, octyl octanoate, dimethicone, isopropyl myristate
- Occlusive: lanolin acid, stearic acid, cyclomethicone, dimethicone, squalene, caprylic/capric triglycerides, mineral oil, paraffin, petrolatum
- Humectants: sodium pyrrolidine, honey, sorbitol, lactate, urea, carboxylic acid, glycerin
- Wearing Gloves:
Besides the judicious use of an appropriate moisturizer on damp skin after hand-washing, you can soak your hands in plain water for about 5 minutes and wear gloves for an hour or two. This will make sure that moisture on the surface reaches its designated place. For someone who has a very rough and cracked skin, moisturize heavily with a strong moisturizer and wear cotton gloves for 10-12 hours, especially when you go to sleep. You should also wear gloves on cold and windy days to avert extra damage to your skin.
- Using a skin balm:
In case you are suffering from ailments like eczema or psoriasis, your dry skin may become drier, raw and more cracked because of frequent washing. In such conditions use a skin balm such as Vaseline and apply it thoroughly over the affected regions. This will soothe up the skin alongside protecting it from other damaging agents as well, especially if you are going outdoors. Prefer choosing a liquid band aid if you have deep fissures on the sides of your fingers caused by nails, as liquid band aids bind the edges of fissures together and speed up the healing process.
- Substituting hand sanitizers for soaps:
When your hands have become too dry or cracked for washing, you could temporarily use a hand sanitizer. It is a good substitute for soaps, but cannot used for all the occasions of hand washing. You should not use it before eating, after going to the bathroom, or when your hands are so much soiled that it becomes apparent. These exceptions should always involve hand-washing only.
- Avoiding stress:
Stress and dry skin might seem unrelated, but they are not. But stress is one the causes that lead to eczema. This can add to the skin damage by frequent hand washing. Try various methods of becoming relaxed, such as therapy, workouts, regularly keeping in touch with friends, yoga and meditation.
- Applying aloe vera:
Aloe vera can used as a natural moisturizer as it has soothing and calming effect on your skin. Its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties are the prime reason why it can be regularly used as a natural moisturizer. You can also apply aloe vera gel on your hands for 5 to 10 minutes and then wash it off to reap its anti-drying and health-boosting benefits.