Repeated hand washing during the cold, flu, COVID-19 and RSV season can strip moisture from skin, and a D.C. dermatologist seeing cases of hand dermatitis has tips to help.
“We obviously have to wash our hands; the important part to remember is to apply a moisturizer, cream or ointment to damp skin immediately afterwards,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, professor and chair of dermatology at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Frequent hand washing can cause the skin’s top layer to dry out and become very rigid, causing deep cracks called fissures, as well as peeling, flaky and often painful or itchy skin all over the hand.
Friedman’s advice to help keep skin smooth and supple this winter:
Understand that moisturizer is really a moisture blocker: “When water hits our skin, as it evaporates it will pull more water off with it, as well as wash away the natural moisturizers of the skin. Applying a moisturizer to damp skin locks that water in where it needs to be for the skin to function correctly.”
Know what ingredients to look for: “Look for an ointment or cream that has either jojoba oil, dimethicone, glycerin, hyaluronic acid or lactic acid to get the most out of it. The most important thing, however, is to apply to damp skin.”
Gloves are not just a fashion accessory: “Wear gloves so the wind doesn’t pull water from your already dry skin.”
Follow best lip practices: “Apply a thick lip balm, whether it be ointment or paraffin wax-based, to damp lips — not [damp] with saliva, but rather with water.”
Don’t make the mistake of licking your lips: “Saliva is meant to break down protein, carbohydrates and fats in our food. Well, that’s what our skin is made of too. So, licking our lips will only increase dry, cracked, painful lips.”
Follow best bathing practices, too: “When the humidity drops, it’s important to limit your bathing time to five to 10 minutes; apply a moisturizer immediately after getting out of the shower to damp skin, and also be mindful about soap use. Look for gentle, fragrance-free cleansers, and really minimize soap use as well, as over-washing can be extremely drying for the skin.”
To fix painful fissures, try a liquid bandage: “The best way to use it is apply it to the fissure, pinch the skin together for roughly a minute and let the [bandage] work for you.”
You are what you eat: “Foods that are high in sugar, high in carb load, high in dairy — that can create inflammation in our body, but importantly in our skin, and can lead to drier, more inflamed and itchy skin.”
Treat the air: “Another way to keep moisture in your skin is to have a humidifier in the bedroom, as we lose a lot of water from our skin while we sleep.”
Try a quick hand or foot fix: Soak them in plain water for a couple of minutes, then immediately apply a moisturizer to damp skin and cover with either socks or gloves for about an hour.
Don’t forget sunscreen: “Even though it’s cold and darker out, every day is still a sun protection day. So when you’re applying a moisturizer to exposed areas, make sure there is a sunscreen in that moisturizer — SPF 30 or higher, and broad spectrum.”
If you can’t get your dry skin under control, Friedman said, it’s never a bad decision to see a board-certified dermatologist.