When temperatures drop or we have to clean our hands more frequently than usual (something that’s become a norm during today’s coronavirus pandemic), our hands take a beating. They’re left cracked and dry, in desperate need of hydration.
“Our skin is not smooth like a wall; it’s more like a cobblestone street,” explains board certified dermatologist Erum Ilyas, M.D., M.B.E., F.A.AD. “Our skin cells make up the bricks, and the mortar that holds them together is made up of lipids, ceramides, wax esters, and proteins that protect our skin.”
The alcohol in hand sanitizers and surfactants in hand soap can dry out skin, breaking down its natural barriers, Ilyas says. As a result, our hands feel cracked and dried.
That breakdown also affects our immunity. “Once our skin dries out and the barrier function it serves starts to break apart, it becomes inflamed,” explains Ilyas. This affects the ability of our skin’s immune cells to protect us from infection and allergens.
As many of us try to sterilize our hands more than ever before, it’s crucial to keep them hydrated and healthy. Here are six dermatologist-approved tips.
1. Apply Moisturizer After Washing
After every single time you wash your hands, apply moisturizer to replace the natural loss in the process. Ilyas suggests looking for ingredients like shea butter, cocoa butter, or coconut oil. She likes SheaMoisture Soothing Hydration Cocoa Butter Blend, which strikes a nice balance between hydrating hands and protecting the skin.
2. Forget the Hand Wipes
“Though wipes are easy to use when in a bind, like right before a meal or while traveling, they contain preservatives to keep them moist in the packet,” Ilyas warns. “I have seen lots of sensitivities and allergies to these preservatives, so I suggest sticking with hand sanitizers or soap and water.”
3. Choose A Hand Soap That Contains Aloe Vera
To protect your skin cells and thoroughly clean your hands without totally drying them out with hand-washing, Ilyas recommends looking for a soap that includes aloe vera, which has soothing properties.
One of her go-to’s: South of France Shea Butter Hand Wash with Soothing Aloe Vera.
4. Say No to Fragrances
Whether you’re using hand soap or sanitizer, avoid products that contain fragrances—especially if you use them frequently.
“The more you wash your hands, the harder it is to keep up with rehydrating them,” says Ilyas. “If you use scented products, your skin may start to develop sensitivities to the fragrance that makes healing even harder.”
Nice as these products may smell, the scent isn’t worth the price you may pay if you use them constantly.
5. Wear Gloves When Cleaning
Many cleaning products can be harsh on your skin, and may further dry out or inflame your hands, says Ilyas. (Same goes for solvents, glues, dyes, and resins.)
“Help your hands out and think about wearing gloves when using these products,” she says.
6. Wear Petroleum Jelly And Gloves At Night
To show your hands some extra TLC, coat your hands in petroleum jelly or a thick moisturizer and cover them with cotton gloves at night. This can help restore your skin—especially in early stages of dryness, suggests Ilyas.
When To Talk To A Dermatologist About Your Dry Hands
“Given the concerns today for virus spread, people are using hand sanitizers and washing more than ever,” says Ilyas. As a result, cases of dermatitis (a.k.a. skin irritation) are popping up left and right.
If your skin is red, inflamed, sore, or uncomfortable, or you notice cracks or fissures in your skin, call your dermatologist. In this case, a prescription topical steroid or nonsteroidal cream may best help heal your skin, Ilyas says.