As we’re still constantly reminded to wash our hands to help continue curbing the spread of coronavirus – for 20 seconds, to the tune of Happy Birthday if that helps – another issue facing some people, especially those who suffer from skin irritation or eczema, is dry hands.
Brisbane consultant dermatologist Dr Leona Yip says it’s normal for hands to become dry with increased handwashing.
“It’s because, in normal skin, there’s an oil layer called the skin barrier that sits right on top of the skin,” she says.
“What it does is, it locks in moisture within the skin. With frequent handwashing, water – especially hot water – strips off the oil layer at the top, so water evaporates more easily into the environment.
“So, because of that, the skin is more prone to dryness. It looks more cracked or scaly, or it’s just a bit flaky. And it can cause fissuring [cracks in the skin] as well, in the late stages.
“This irritation will keep going until it gets inflamed, if left untreated, and that’s how you can get irritant dermatitis.”
For those suffering from skin irritation or increased eczema flares, Dr Yip recommends first trying a soap substitute – “a soap-free wash, because soap-based products really risk drying out the skin further and irritating it more”.
She also points out that soap-free products should be as effective as soap in helping prevent coronavirus transmission through skin contact with a contaminated surface, because the key is correct handwashing.
“The key point is that handwashing needs to be for at least 20 seconds,” she says.
“So, regardless of whether it’s a soap-based or soap-free wash, if you’re washing your hands for at least 20 seconds under running water, it should be just as effective to get rid of coronavirus.”
It’s important to pat-dry hands, Dr Yip adds (“rubbing and friction will traumatise the skin further”) and to “immediately after drying your hands, put on moisturiser.
Dr Yip recommends the “liberal use of a greasy, thicker moisturiser” as this is “much better at sealing in and trapping water within the skin”.
What about hand sanitisers?
When it comes to hand sanitiser, the clear recommendation is to use one containing at least 60% alcohol.
While this can have a drying effect on the skin, hand sanitisers with such content will have the antiseptic properties required.
“While less alcohol may be gentler, it likely won’t serve the same purpose with antiseptic properties,” Dr Yip says.
To look after the skin on your hands, she reiterates the message of moisturising after hand sanitising.
“After the hand sanitiser dries, put on a liberal layer of moisturiser, just like after handwashing – the greasier the better,” Dr Yip advises.