Dry hands from dutiful handwashing? Here’s what you can do

Keep the moisturizer ready when you’re frequently washing your hands. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Maurian Soares Salvador)
What to know about 3 types of moisturizers (WTOP's Kristi King)

Desert-dry skin is one consequence of conscientious hand washing done to help protect against the coronavirus and other winter ailments, but a D.C. dermatologist has advice to help.

Whether you’re using soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer, make sure you have a moisturizer handy.

“The most effective way to limit desert hands is after washing your hands, for example, while the skin is still damp — not dripping wet — apply a moisturizer to that damp skin,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, interim chair of the department of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Friedman said hand sanitizers that are 70% or higher in alcohol content basically melt away the outer layer of your skin, but the subsequent drying effect also can be easily rectified.

It takes just seconds for alcohol in sanitizers to do the work of killing viruses and bacteria, so after you’ve rubbed it in well, briefly wash off your hands with tap water, no soap, and apply moisturizer to your damp skin.

If you’re trying to avoid the drying effect of soaps and sanitizers, Friedman said 20 seconds of vigorous rubbing even with plain water can wash away viruses and bacteria.

“It’s that physical motion that really is most important,” he said. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said using soap and water is the most effective way to wash your hands.)

But even plain water can be hard on your hands.

“Water is actually a drying agent,” Friedman said. “Water washes away the natural moisturizing factors of the skin. So, if you were just even to run your hands underwater multiple times daily without soap, that too would be drying.”

And as water evaporates off skin, it pulls more water out with it through convection. The solution is, again, to use moisturizer after washing hands or post-shower. “Trap that moisture while it’s sitting on the skin and force it in by putting something on damp skin,” Friedman said.


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