Why do hands get dry and rough due to hand sanitizer and washing? How is coronavirus and the weather causing hands to dry ?
Our skin is not smooth like a wall- it’s more like a cobblestone street. The skin cells make up the bricks and the mortar that holds them together is made up of lipids, ceramides, wax esters and other proteins that serve to protect our skin. Hand sanitizers have a significant amount of alcohol and hand soaps have surfactants that dry out our skin by breaking down this barrier. As natural oils, fats and proteins are pulled away from our skin, it leaves our hands feeling cracked and dried. Cooler temperatures do not help as there is less moisture in the environment compared to hot humid times of year. This only serves to dry our skin out further. Once our skin dries out and the barrier function it serves starts to break apart, our skin becomes inflamed and the immune cells in our skin become more prevalent attempting to protect us from infection and allergens.
Tips for keeping your hands hydrated- what to do and why it works!
Given the concerns today for viral spread, the incidence of hand dermatitis has definitely increased. More people are using hand sanitizers and washing more than every! For people like me and the volume of patients I see daily, I can honestly say I have learned to avoid the dry cracked skin that these products can cause in spite of washing my hands hundreds of times daily.
- Every time you wash your hands, try to apply a moisturizer to replace natural oils and moisture that is lost with hand washing.
- Wear gloves outside when it’s cold. We all put on a coat, a hat.. Gloves are not always worn unless we absolutely have to because we need our fingers free for our phones and keys. However, when you are outside with cold temperatures, the cold will pull away moisture from our skin and dry and crack it further. Try to protect your skin from the elements to avoid this break down.
- Avoid using hand wipes or baby wipes to clean your hands. These are easy to use when in a bind, like right before a meal or while traveling, however these wipes have added preservatives designed to keep them moist in the packet. I have seen lots of sensitivities and allergies on patch testing to the preservatives in wipes that I tend to prefer we stick with traditional hand sanitizers, soap and water for hands for most hand cleaning needs.
- Avoid hand soaps and sanitizers with added fragrances if using them for frequent hand washing. The more you wash your hands, the harder it is to keep up with rehydrating them. If you use scented products, your skin may start to develop added sensitivities to the fragrance that makes them harder to heal. These products are great for occasional use. If your hands are in the trenches or repeated hand washing, they are not so great.
- If your hands are always exposed to cleaning agents, solvents, glues, dyes, resins, cooking, gardening - wear gloves! Your hands are well designed to have thicker skin over the palms and fingertips to let you work with some harsh products occasionally. However if you are working with products that can further dry out or inflame your skin routinely, then your skin has to work in up-hill battle to stay hydrated. Help them out and recognize when certain products routinely aggravate your skin and think about using gloves.
I have a lot of patients tell me that they often wear vaseline or thick moisturizers with cotton gloves at night to help restore their skin. This is not unreasonable if you are in the early stages of drying out your skin. If you already note that your skin is red, inflamed, sore or uncomfortable with cracks or fissures in your skin, see your dermatologist. This often means that you may need a prescription topical steroid or nonsteroidal cream to help heal your skin so that moisturizers will work again. Truthfully, after 20 years of washing my hands dozens of times a day I have never had to resort to wearing gloves to bed with petrolatum based products. I find if you approach this the right way you may not have to!