If you’ve become hyperaware of hand hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. Read on for ways to find relief for dry hands from winter weather and frequent washing/sanitizing.
Hand sanitizer has become a part of the mental checklist of things I pat my pockets for before I leave my house, along with a face mask, keys and wallet. This winter especially, I’ve been reaching for more hand creams for my skin, noticing the dry skin between my fingers and along my knuckles. It isn’t any wonder, after everything I do, from touching doorknobs to gas station pumps, to supermarket baskets, I’m using a healthy amount of hand sanitizer or washing my hands with soap and water. “Late winter is the peak time when patients are bothered by dry hands,” explains dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Jones. “I would say half of my patients bring this up. It’s that common.”
Dr. Jones says the skin on our hands and feet is unique in that it has a thickened, compact outer layer, plus an additional layer of skin called the stratum lucidum, which translates to extra protection. “When that extra protection breaks down, it makes the skin more vulnerable to the stressors of everyday life. It can also make healing more challenging in comparison to other parts of the body.”
Keep scrolling for Dr. Jones’ tips for healing hands.
Protect Your Hands with Gloves
When washing dishes or cleaning around the home, you expose your hands to various, harsh detergents, chemicals and alcohols. Dr. Jones recommends investing in a pair of rubber gloves that extend to your elbow to prevent direct contact with the skin.
In colder months. Dr. Jones also encourages patients to wear gloves whenever they’re outside or exposed to the elements. “When the skin is already dried and broken down, it is vulnerable to environmental temperature changes,” she says. “Wearing insulated and protective gloves make a difference because they preserve blood flow to the hands which nourishes the skin.”
Moisturize on a Regular Basis with the Right Products
This might seem obvious, but Dr. Jones cautions to make sure you’re picking the right moisturizer and committing to using it ideally two or three times a day. She adds that this can be challenging because we’re busy with our hands all day long.
“Vaseline is a dermatologist’s secret weapon, especially for moisturizing and wound healing,” Dr. Jones says. “A little goes a long way in getting into the fissures and cracks of the skin of our hands. But it feels greasy, which some people can’t tolerate.” If you prefer something less greasy, look for products labeled as a hand cream. “In general, something that is labeled as a hand cream or emollient is formulated to be extra rich and moisturizing,” she recommends. “I tell my patients to mix in a little baby oil or coconut oil to improve the feel and effectiveness.”
Beware of lotions. Dr. Jones says they tend to have a lot of water and alcohol in the ingredients. “They’re top sellers because they feel nice and rub in quickly, but they’re not doing much for dry skin,” she explains. “Because of the alcohol in them, they can wind up doing more harm than good.”
Use Hand Sanitizer Wisely
“Use soap and water when possible,” Dr. Jones says. “Make sure you have plenty of moisturizer readily available to apply to your skin throughout the day.” She recommends oil-containing hand soaps to minimize dryness from frequent use.
When sanitizers are unavoidable, she prefers foam sanitizers over gel varieties. The CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective against COVID-19.
If you are not finding any relief for dry hands, it’s worth connecting with a dermatologist or discussing with your primary care doctor to determine if a prescription is right for you.