Well Health

Is Hand-Washing Drying Out Your Hands? Here’s What You Can Do

March 18, 2020
A woman puts lotion on her hands while looking in the mirror.
© Leah Flores / Stocksy United
Quick Read

Prevent dry hands

  • Use mild, unscented soap and lotion.
  • Wash with warm, not hot, water.
  • Moisturize right after washing, when hands are damp.
  • Pat, don’t rub, hands dry.
  • Stay hydrated and wear gloves when going outside.

You’re doing everything you’re supposed to: Washing your hands after you touch anything, singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself for (at least) 20 seconds, using soap and water or at least 60% alcohol hand sanitizer. 

You may be preventing the spread of germs and lowering your risk of getting COVID-19, which is great, but your hands are less than appreciative.

They’re dry like a desert. The skin of your palms is flaking off. There’s even a little blood

It’s miserable, to say the least. But take heart: There are ways to keep your hands happy while still following hand-washing guidelines. Here are some tips from Susan Kline, director of nursing and care coordination for UW Neighborhood Clinics.

Use a mild soap

Choose soaps that include shea butter, aloe or jojoba oil to help keep your hands moisturized. Or basic soaps with few ingredients that don’t deplete your skin’s natural oils. 

You don’t need anything fancy like antibacterial soap: As long as you’re scrubbing long enough, good old plain soap and water will do the trick. 

Pat, don’t rub

Gently patting your hands dry creates less friction than vigorously rubbing them, which can irritate your dehydrated hands even more. 

Choose soap over hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer has alcohol in it; most hand soaps don’t. Alcohol dries your skin out. Instead of opting for a generous squeeze of hand sanitizer each time you need to clean your hands, just wash with soap and water. 

Plus, this way, hand sanitizer shortages are now something you don’t have to worry about. 

Use lotion on damp hands

After washing your hands, apply hand cream while your hands are still damp. This will lock in the moisture. Also, now is not the time to be lazy: Make sure you put lotion on after every hand-washing.

Avoid scented soap and hand lotion

If you have particularly sensitive skin, chemicals used to create scented lotions and soaps can cause irritation. It’s best to avoid them and opt for unscented hand cream and soap instead. 

Try oil

If hand lotion just isn’t doing it for you, try rubbing some coconut or olive oil onto your hands. Is it a little weird? Yes. Will your hands smell edible? Yes. But at least they’ll be moisturized.

Wash with warm, not hot, water

Hot water strips natural oils away from your skin more quickly. It may feel more satisfying, like you’re burning the germs away, but warm water or even cool water will work just as well. 

Message your doctor

If your hands are regularly cracking and bleeding, are oozing, are red and swelling, or are super dry and scaly with no relief in sight, it might be time to send your doctor a message and ask if there’s a medicated cream they can prescribe. These symptoms can occur with conditions like eczema, which generally benefit from more specific treatment.

Stay hydrated 

Being even a little dehydrated can dry your skin out, so make sure you’re drinking lots of liquids throughout the day. 

Water is obviously the best choice; if you’re not into plain water, try infusing it with fresh fruit to add some flavor.

And for all the coffee-lovers out there, some vindication: Caffeine isn’t as dehydrating as people say it is. While it will make you need to pee, that grande iced latte you love to down every morning will actually help keep you hydrated, too. 

Wear gloves

There are many types of gloves that can help protect your hands. If you’re going outside, wear warm gloves to keep dry air away from your skin. If you’re washing dishes, wear rubber gloves to keep hot water from drying your skin out. 

Want something more luxurious? Slather thick lotion all over your hands and put on spa gloves to let the moisture really sink in. Wear the gloves overnight and you’ll likely wake up to baby-soft hands in the morning.

Who says you can’t have an at-home spa day during self-imposed quarantine?

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