Over washing your hands can introduce new hazards

June 16, 2020

Hazards of over washing your hands

You are likely washing your hands more than ever these days as a precaution against COVID-19. But ironically by over-washing our hands we can actually be introducing a new hazard by removing natural emollients, increasing dryness, and introducing cracks into our skin giving bacteria a path of entry into our bodies.  

When you wash your hands, you are washing away not only unwanted dirt and germs but also the natural oil in the skin. If the natural oils in the skin are not replaced it can lead to dryness, redness, itching, flaking, and in severe cases, cracks in the skin. Those with pre-existing skin conditions like eczema can experience worse symptoms. Over-washing leads to risk of infection from dry, cracked skin and can trigger hand eczema or hand dermatitis.  

Signs of over-washing can include: 

  • Irritation 

  • Redness  

  • Flaking  

  • Itching 

How can you prevent dryness while washing your hands?  

1. Choose the appropriate soap 

The choice of soap is important to prevent dryness while washing your hands. Choosing a mild, fragrance-free soap and avoiding the use of too much soap will prevent the loss of natural oils. Use warm water and ensure you dry your hands thoroughly with a towel. Once your hands are dry apply a moisturizer immediately.  

2. Select fragrance-free handwashing products 

Avoiding fragrance is critical to protect chapped, sensitive skin. Creams and ointments are better than lotions due to their higher fat content(?). Petroleum jelly is still the most effective moisturizer and it is not irritating even if you have eczema. Petroleum jelly provides a layer over the skin to protect and hydrate it. 

3. Avoid water-based moisturizers  

Moisturizer with ingredients like glycerine and hyaluronic acid can hold moisture against the skin for longer. Ceramides are good too and are found in shea butter. Avoid water-based moisturizers — when the water evaporates, they can actually dry the skin and worsen eczema. 

Are hand sanitizers better than hand soap? 

Hand sanitizers can give the hands a break from washing. However, the higher the concentration of alcohol in a hand sanitizer, the more it will dry the skin. There are hand sanitizers with moisturizers in them, but they are not as effective at killing viruses.  

Will barrier creams help protect your hands for over washing? 

Barrier creams are products applied directly to the skin to help maintain the skin’s physical barrier. They are meant to provide protection from irritants and to prevent the skin from drying out. They can also make it easier to remove paint, glue, or sealant from hands during or after industrial or occupational work, without needing to use harsh solvents. Barrier creams are made of many of the ingredients mentioned above. Depending on your work activities, choose a water-repellent cream, a water-soluble cream or a cream designed for special applications.  

Skin treatments for dry hands outside of work 

Many beauty care experts recommend wrapping hands in thick moisturizer before bed and cover hands with cotton gloves. There are masks for hands that can be washed off after 20 minutes. Sleeping with a humidifier in the bedroom can help dry skin.  

Protect your hands before you start your work shift 

If you struggle with dry hands from over-washing, apply moisturizer before your work shift begins. Let it soak in for 30 min, if you have the time, before donning gloves.  

Improve your post hand washing routine  

Add a moisturizing step to your hand washing or hand sanitizing routine to replace the lost oils on your skin. Keep a bottle of moisturizer beside your sink and with you on your travels.  

Tips to avoid over washing and irritating your hands:  

  1. Use lukewarm water; hot water strips your hands of natural oil. 

  1. Use moisturizing liquid soap with a creamy consistency and ingredients like glycerin and lanolin. 

  1. Blot your skin with a towel when drying your hands.  

  1. Apply cream or ointments after you wash and dry your hands to restore a oil barrier on the skin.   

  1. Wear gloves for 1 hour after applying cream or lotion to restore moisture to dry hands.  

  1. Do not use hand sanitizers before eating, after using the toilet or if your hands are visibly soiled.