Washing your hands frequently is one of the best things you can do to protect against COVID-19, but all that soap and water can sap your skin of its natural oils, leaving your hands dry and chapped. Dermatologists like Kari Martin, MD call it irritant contact dermatitis, and here’s how she says you can prevent it.
Don’t Stop Washing
“The answer isn’t to wash less.”
Soap and water are the most effective way to kill germs, but instead of choosing products labeled “soap”, look for ones listed as cleansers. They can be much less irritating to the skin.
Consider Hand Sanitizer
“Hand sanitizer is effective against viruses and can be less irritating for some people.”
Usually hand sanitizer is intended for use when a person doesn’t have access to soap and water, but if you’re unable to find a soap your skin can handle, try a sanitizer instead.
“Dry your hands well and apply a moisturizer right away while your skin is still damp. You don’t have to apply a moisturizer every single time you wash, but if you are prone to dry skin or redness on your hands, do it often.”
Thick moisturizers such as oils, ointments and creams are better than lotions, which contain too much water to help dry skin. The fewer the ingredients, the better. Try to avoid extra fragrances or preservatives, since they can irritate sensitive skin.
“Actually, plain old petroleum jelly that has nothing else in it is good. A lot of people like coconut oil or sunflower seed oil which can also work well since they contain one ingredient.”
Beyond chapped hands, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic can contribute to outbreaks of shingles and cold sores and can cause flareups of pre-existing conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and seborrhea.
“Practice your stress-reliever of choice, whether that be meditation, exercise, a nature walk or venting to a friend.”
Next Steps and Useful Resources
- Concerns about a skin condition? MU Health Care’s dermatologists offer virtual and in-person appointments. Call 573-882-4800 or visit muhealth.org/dermatology.