Health experts have been reiterating social distancing and hygiene practices such as frequent hand washing in order to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak. But, washing hands so frequently can cause dry skin and irritations and might even worsen existing dermatological conditions.

Frequent hand washing with repetitive exposure to soap and cleansers could disrupt the outermost layer of the skin called ‘corneum,’ which is the protective layer. Individuals performing a lot of ‘wet work,’ or those who wash and dry their hands several times daily, are prone to irritant contact dermatitis. This includes healthcare workers such as doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other professionals like hairdressers, food handlers, cleaners and kitchen staff. All of them might be exposed to several kinds of detergent and cleaning products that might cause skin irritation.

“There are two major types of skin reactions associated with hand hygiene. The first and most common type includes symptoms that can vary from quite mild to debilitating, including dryness, irritation, itching, and even cracking and bleeding. This array of symptoms is referred to as irritant contact dermatitis. The second type of skin reaction, allergic contact dermatitis, is rare and represents an allergy to some ingredient in a hand hygiene product,” said the WHO guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care.

The coronavirus has, indeed, changed some of the world's hygiene habits. However, most individuals frequently washing their hands are facing this issue. But ,here’s how one can overcome skin problems due to frequent handwashing:

  • Hand washing is better than using hand sanitizers. Make sure you apply moisturizer after each hand washing to prevent the drying effects. You can carry a tube moisturizer which can help prevent dryness wherever you are.
  • Antiseptic washes and antibacterial cleaning products can be quite harsh on the skin. They aren’t really required if one uses a proper technique of washing hands with soap for 20 seconds using warm water.
  • People with eczema should pat dry after washing their hands using a disposable paper towel or tissue. Experts recommend that they do not rub dry as it can be traumatic to the skin apart from the harm caused by frequent exposure to water and cleaning products. And it is important to apply a generous amount of moisturizer to coat the entire surface of their hands.
  • It is better to apply hand sanitizer over bare hands than on gloves. Applying sanitizer over gloves can limit its efficiency and sometimes one might miss spots on the gloves and can accidentally carry some germs.
  • If one’s hands are already cracked or damaged, apply petroleum jelly or seek medical help. Prescription ointments containing corticosteroids can subside the rashes, mentioned Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
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