With the COVID-19 outbreak, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently.

Whether it be the rapidly escalating corona pandemic or just any given winter, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of infections. Unfortunately, the very soaps and even wringing of hands underwater will also break down the barrier we are trying to protect.

As we diligently wash hands more frequently than usual, skin experts share tips that can help keep your skin healthy.

Wash with warm water
Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. About the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice, making sure to cover palms, backs of hands, fingers, in between fingers, wrists, and fingernails.

Lukewarm water is best rather than hot. Very hot will eventually dry things out and doesn’t improve efficacy. Skin specialists agreed, noting that hot water strips your hands of any natural oils that it needs to stay waterproof. So if you can, use lukewarm water with plenty of soap.

Use moisturizing soap
Because many soaps can strip the skin and cause them to be dry and cracked, wash your hands with soap that’s moisturizing. For example, a soap with a creamy consistency. You should also look out for soaps with ingredients such as glycerin and lanolin. Also, try to avoid soap bars.

It is also suggested to stay away from bar soaps. The binders that hold a bar of soap together naturally have a high pH, which will cause unnecessary dryness. Instead, choose liquid soaps since they are generally less drying to the skin.

No matter what type of soap you’re using, try not to be too aggressive when it comes to cleaning your hands. This is usually [due] to rushing. Try to be gentle as to not aggravate the skin.

Apply moisturizer
When water isn’t sealed into the skin after washing, it can dry out your hand. The reason is that water acts like a magnet and it will attract water out from the deepest layers of the skin and evaporate into the dry air. The result is even tighter, drier skin. To prevent this from happening, be sure to immediately apply hand cream afterward. Even a light layer will do.

Moisturizers help with skin care because they:

  • restore the barrier function of the epidermis
  • provide a protective film
  • fill in the small crevices between scales
  • increase the water content of the epidermis
  • soothe the skin
  • improve the skin’s appearance and texture

Wear gloves
In addition to applying a moisturizer to damp skin after washing, soak your hands in plain water for 5 minutes, then apply a moisturizer, and wear gloves for 1 to 2 hours.

This will ensure that the surface moisture gets where it needs to go. Wearing gloves on cold, windy days can also keep the wind from further damaging dry skin.

Use skin balm
If you suffer from skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis and find your dry skin is becoming increasingly more dry, raw, or cracked due to more washing, opt for a skin balm such as Vaseline and applying it directly onto sores or cracked areas.

This will both soothe the area as well as protect it from further damage, especially if you find you are outside a lot as the elements will also add to the damage. If you have deep fissures, which often occur at the sides of the fingers by the nail inserts, consider liquid Band-Aid. Liquid Band-Aid is a great way to keep the edges of the fissure together to accelerate wound healing.

Substitute hand sanitizer for soap
If your hands are too chapped to wash, you can temporarily use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is another option to limit handwashing until the skin recovers, but not before eating, after [going to the] bathroom, [or] when hands are visibly soiled — that should [involve] handwashing.

Blot dry
When drying your hands, blot, don’t wipe to prevent micro-abrasions on the skin. Paper towels are best, but if you use cloth, each person in a home should have their own towel and towels should be replaced with clean ones every 3 days. Make sure hands are thoroughly dried, as germs are more easily transferred on wet hands.