The coronavirus outbreak has, among other things, forced us all to face a jarring reality. Most of us (not pointing fingers, men) are not washing our hands correctly. Washing for 20 seconds is one of the easiest lines of defense against COVID-19, according to the CDC and basically everyone you know on social media.
More time scrubbing means fewer germs on the skin’s surface, but it also can lead to dryness, cracking and discomfort. So we asked a few medical professionals who are used to excessively washing their hands ― even when there is not a global health crisis at hand ― how they keep their hands hydrated.
First of all, it’s important to understand that keeping your hands moisturized is not sheerly for comfort ― it actually is a necessary step in keeping your hands safe and sanitized.
“Washing and using hand sanitizer will eventually dry out the skin, make it feel itchy and eventually lead to a cracked, painful, eczematous rash,” New York-based dermatologist Jessica Krant told HuffPost. “This is actually evidence of a damaged skin barrier, the opposite of protective. We really need to wash germs off with soap and water, but also moisturize to prevent that process from damaging our safety barrier.”
Having cracked skin from excessive hand-washing can be dangerous, according to Craig Shapiro, attending physician in pediatric infectious diseases at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware. He emphasized the importance of moisturized skin to The Washington Post:
“If the skin is breaking down or raw, then the soap and alcohol disinfectants do not work as well,” he said, adding that dry, itchy and uncomfortable skin could stop people from wanting to wash. “People can be less likely to wash their hands to prevent transmission of germs and infection.” The article goes on to recommend thicker options, like Aquaphor or Vaseline.
Krant and New York-based dermatologist Natalie Yin both sang the praises of Neutrogena Norwegian formula hand cream. “Derms love it,” Yin told HuffPost. “It contains glycerin, which attracts moisture and keeps hands deeply hydrated.”
Krant echoed its hydrating properties, explaining that “it has the perfect balance between ‘doesn’t feel too greasy so I can go about my life touching things normally’ and ‘absorbs immediately but my hands actually feel drier an hour later,’” she said. “It provides an invisible glove that feels silky and stays in place, creating an artificial barrier when the skin is getting too dried and damaged by frequent washing.”
Meghan, a New York-based nurse who asked we just use her first name, swears by Eucerin skin calming cream.
“I’ve been using it on my hands and arms in the morning and at night,” she told HuffPost. “It keeps my skin hydrated so I don’t have to use lotions as often during the day while I’m constantly washing and applying hand sanitizer.”
Whatever your preferred product, one thing is certain: Both regular hand-washing and moisturizing are two of your best defenses for keeping germs, infection and discomfort at bay.