The new coronavirus which causes Covid-19, is now a full-blown pandemic. And while there are still no specific treatments or a vaccine, experts agree on one thing – frequent hand-washing reduces the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, stringent hand hygiene can come with a set of complications for those susceptible to skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or reactions to ingredients in hand soaps and sanitisers.
And even if you’ve never experienced dry skin or eczema before, washing your hands more frequently might have an effect on your skin, and you might notice dryness and peeling.
How does hand-washing cause dryness?
According to Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, repeated use of soaps, detergents and alcohols, especially with the recommended effective percentage of 70% or more, can damage proteins in the upper layer (stratum corneum) of the skin. This affects the lipid barrier of the skin – the layer of fat that essentially locks moisture in – and reduces your skin’s capability of binding and retaining water molecules, causing loss of skin moisture.
This can result in a condition which is known as irritant contact dermatitis. If you already suffer from eczema or psoriasis, you would know that the use of certain strongly fragranced or harsh products can cause a flare-up of itchy, red and scaly skin.
With the fear of Covid-19 spreading rapidly, we are washing our hands more frequently than we're used to – and with stronger detergents and warmer water, it's no wonder that many of us are experiencing dryness.
While general skin dryness isn’t a serious condition, a flare-up of chronic eczema or psoriasis can be itchy, uncomfortable and even painful. And as the skin’s microbiome can become disturbed, this may lead to a secondary infection of the skin.
How to prevent dry hands and skin conditions
When it comes to protecting your hands during times when frequent hand-washing is encouraged, there are two things you can do: dry your hands properly, and moisturise.
Drying your hands properly, from the wrists down to the fingertips, is crucial, not only because germs spread more easily between wet hands, but water can also have a drying effect on the skin as it evaporates.
When you are especially prone to eczema and other skin conditions, you might already know to avoid colourants and fragrances. If you are concerned about how increased hand-washing may affect your skin, here are some more tips:
- Where possible, choose mild soap and warm water over an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. If you cannot clean your hands in a bathroom, moisturise after applying hand sanitiser and letting it dry properly.
- Keep a fragrance-free, rich hand cream handy and pay special attention to the parts of your hands that may become increasingly dry and painful, such as the areas between fingers, and cuticles.
- Use latex or rubber gloves when you're washing dishes or disinfecting surfaces in your home, as strong cleaning products may also affect the skin.
- While warm water is best for removing germs, don’t wash your hands in scalding hot water, as this can increase skin sensitivity, redness and itching.