We learned from an early age to wash our hands to prevent spread of germs, and since we are still in cold & flu season in most of the U.S.A. I’m shocked that in the Midwest this last week, stores have been running low on hand sanitizers & other hand hygiene products. Yes, now that the new Coronavirus has been multiplying here and the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has been stressing the importance of washing hands, these products (as well as toilet paper?!) have been flying off the shelves.
A photo from 3/5/20 in an Indiana Target-a state that had no cases reported. Photo cred- Torrye Kampen
While I’m glad everyone (finally) cares about basic hygiene, and hope it lasts forever...
It does present a new problem that has already been an issue in my house, and probably in yours! I feel it’s time we address the need for another step of protection: replenishing moisture after hand washing.
See, when it comes to your skin, repeated barrier disruption induces epidermal hyperplasia and inflammation.* More simply; frequent hand washing and sanitizer usage can lead to swollen, red, itchy, raw hands that can crack open and let in harmful bacteria and viruses.
After the top layer of the skin cracks from repetitive wet/dry cycles, especially in conditions of low humidity with rapid drying, inflammation starts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) outlined the potential skin reactions related to hand hygiene in a 2009 publication: *
“There are two major types of skin reactions associated with hand hygiene. The first and most common type includes symptoms that can vary from quite mild to debilitating, including dryness, irritation, itching, and even cracking and bleeding. This array of symptoms is referred to as irritant contact dermatitis. The second type of skin reaction, allergic contact dermatitis, is rare and represents an allergy to some ingredient in a hand hygiene product. Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis can also range from mild and localized to severe and generalized.”
In a world filled with the heightened need for germ invasion, AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FO DAT! Heres’s a few suggestions how to help your hands stay in good working order, despite the constant hand washing brought on by #coronageddon:
- Follow your hand washing/sanitizing with something to help replenish the depleted lipid barrier. Find thick repairing lotions, heavy hand creams, or even ointments like Aquaphor or Bag Balm. Keep a small tube of your favorite moisturizer in your pocket to reapply frequently, ideally after washing your hands each time.
- Heal your hands overnight, by using an ointment or moisturizer, or a combination of the two in a thick layer to your hands before you go to sleep. Slip on a pair of cotton gloves, or even socks to help keep in the heat and moisture. I’ve been using Harvest body butter from Waxing Kara lately, because I love the hydration it offers, and the smells of fall & pumpkin pie are comforting to fall asleep to.
- Keep hydrated internally by drinking enough water! Another thing we’ve heard our whole lives, since there’s so many wonderful things water does for our bodies! (Because I’m occasionally a diva, my favorite way to ensure I always have a drink on hand is by using fun drinkware that I can take along.)
- Keep hydrated, externally. Cut down on the hot water usage...even when hand-washing! The CDC states “The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal; however, warmer water may cause more skin irritation and is more environmentally costly.”** According to them, washing hands for 20 seconds (like singing happy birthday twice) is the least amount of time you should spend to purify your paws. (To read more; check out CDC.gov)
- Antibacterial soap? Not needed. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health.
- When drying hands, using a clean towel or paper towel, patting them dry instead of rubbing or using friction. Air drying might be gentler still on your skin, but avoid the automatic heat dryers. They blow around ickies, and dry out skin faster.
- Keep your air at a good humidity level. If your home is dry, invest in a good humidifier- but make sure you follow cleaning & usage instructions, to ensure you aren’t spreading more harmful things into the air...(like mold!)
- Keep your hands (and the rest of your skin!) away from prolonged sunlight. (Ya’ll had to know I’d include something about the sun!) This is not fake news; we all know the sun dries out skin, and hands are no exception. Use uv blocking gloves, or grab a moisturizing mineral sunscreen, like this one:
My favorite moisturizing spf that doesn’t make me feel icky & sticky!
At the end of the day, riding this virus out is not going to be easy or convenient for anyone. Please take safety precautions outlined by the CDC & World Health Organization (WHO) but be mindful of the additional care your hands will need so their natural barrier isn’t compromised. Also- maybe people should be hoarding hand lotion in the U.S., instead of toilet paper. Just sayin’.
Best of luck & health to you all!
Citations & Sources
Feingold, K.R. and Elias, P.M. The environmental interface: regulation of permeability barrier homeostasis. In: Dry Skin and Moisturizers. Chemistry and Function ( M. Loden and H.I. Maibach, eds), pp. 45– 58. CRC Press, Boca Raton, USA (2000).
Grice, K.A. Transepidermal water loss in pathologic skin. In: The Physiology and Pathophysiology of the Skin ( A. Jarrett, ed.), pp. 2147– 2155. Academic Press, London (1980).
Denda, M., Tsuchiya, T., Elias, P.M. and Feingold, K.R. Stress alters cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis. Am. J. Physiol. 278, R367– R372 (2000). Crossref CAS PubMed Web of Science®Google Scholar
*WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care Is Safer Care. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 14, Skin reactions related to hand hygiene.