Ways to maintain hand hygiene without damaging the skin

Dr Aishani Shah, Specialist Dermatologist, Aster Clinic, Al Nahda Dubai

Proper handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent spreading of the COVID – 19 virus.

What most of us don’t know is that frequent hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers cause a lot of dryness and that itself can lead to Dermatitis.

Repeated use causes damage to the superficial layer of skin and also causes the fat present in the layers to dissolve. Once this protective barrier is damaged it acts as a portal of entry for many bacteria and viruses.

There are several ways to take care of one’s hands:

  • As soon as you finish washing your hands, moisturize them immediately using a thick moisturizer. Keep a small bottle in your bag at all times.
  • One should opt for fragrance free moisturizers and moisturize your hands even before wearing gloves.
  • Avoid using hot water to wash your hands as it reduces the natural oils in the skin layers and adds to the dryness caused by harsh soaps and cleansers.
  • Another main reason for flare ups and Dermatitis is that people wear gloves while the hands are still wet either from washing or applying alcohol based sanitizers. Always allow the product to be completely dry before donning the gloves. 
  • If you have a skin condition like eczema (atopic dermatitis or dyshidrotic eczema), washing your hands often or frequent use of sanitizers can lead to flare ups of dry and cracked skin, itchiness, pain and possible infection. For such symptoms it is best to consult a dermatologist, so that proper topical creams can be prescribed along with recommendations of good thick emollient moisturizers.
  • Emollients are an essential part of treating hand dermatitis. They help repair the damaged outer skin and lock moisture inside the skin, making it soft and supple again.
  • My personal and professional experience has been that hand-washing is generally better than hand sanitizer, especially when you apply moisturizer right after.
  • For times when hand washing is not possible, one should always opt for glitter free and fragrance free sanitizers. After using, let the product dry, and then use a bland moisturizing cream to lock in the moisture and then wear gloves.

These simple steps will go a long way and help maintain the skin barrier and prevent the appearance of eczemas, irritant contact Dermatitis and flare ups of preexisting Dermatitis.

Consult your dermatologist if you face any irritation on your skin.