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Health

How to prevent dry skin from constant hand-washing

Photo of someone scratching their dry, red and sore hands. PA Photo/iStock.

By Prudence Wade

With the threat of coronavirus looming large, it’s important to be hyper-vigilant with washing your hands.

The number of people diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus is rising every day, and governments and health officials around the world have said the single most important thing you can do is wash your hands properly. The official advice is to cleanse for 20 seconds, and to do so regularly.

Hand-washing is undoubtedly key in the fight against coronavirus, but it comes with an unfortunate side effect: super dry hands. Soap is drying, because it often contains ingredients which attack the skin’s natural protective layer: sebum. When the skin becomes dehydrated and stripped of some of its natural oils, it can lose elasticity and become cracked, red, uncomfortable and itchy.

Obviously, dry skin is well worth limiting the risk of catching and spreading disease, but that doesn’t exactly make your cracked hands feel any better. So, what can you do to tend to the skin?

Dry hands is something Dr Amber Woodcock, medical director of Cosmetics Doctor, is familiar with. She says: “I can relate to this, because as a medical doctor, I already wash my hands at the hospital tons of times a day.”

This means Woodcock knows from experience how to keep dry skin at bay. Her top tip is to “wet the hands first rather than put the soap directly onto dry skin, which can be irritating”.

After you wash your hands, a good quality hand cream is also vital if you’re prone to dry skin, Woodcock says. She’s a particular fan of Aveeno hand creams, which contain oatmeal, explaining: “If applied regularly, it helps to trap water and hydrate the hands, to prevent cracking and irritation.”

When choosing a product, try to avoid aqueous creams – which are often labelled and marketed under this name. These are often used to target dehydrated skin, but Woodcock says: “It’s actually drying, so we don’t recommend it for cream, only washing.” She cites a 2010 study conducted by researchers at the University of Bath, which found that aqueous cream “reduces the thickness of healthy skin over a period of four weeks, calling into question whether the cream should be used for treating eczema”.

Aqueous creams are emollients, made with a mixture of emulsifying ointments and water. The 2010 study identifies sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) as the drying ingredient in aqueous creams, which can thin the protective outer layer of the skin and let moisture escape. While some aqueous creams don’t contain SLS, most do – making it a key ingredient to avoid when buying hand creams and moisturisers in general.

If a good hand cream still can’t ward off dry skin, there are things you can do to protect it from drying out further. “I would also recommend using gloves for washing up, housework and gardening,” says Woodcock. This reduces the likelihood of your hands coming into contact with damaging chemicals or detergents, which could potentially irritate the skin.

Luckily, an overnight remedy for sore hands is cheap and easily available. “If your skin feels really bad, sleeping in gloves at night with cream on helps,” advises Woodcock.

As regular hand-washing becomes unavoidable and more of us suffer from dry skin, it’s important to think about the aftercare – and not skip the initial cleanse.

 



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