Do you have patches of dry, flaky or itchy skin on your hands? Constant washing and exposing hands to alcohol-based formulas can do a number on your skin, resulting in excessive dryness or even hand eczema. Is dry skin harmful? What can you do to prevent dry hands or eczema? And do dry hands or scaly skin conditions make you more prone to coronavirus?
Why frequent hand washing dries out your skin
The skin has a thin protective layer, which secretes oils that protect your skin from micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses and moulds. Water and soap cause this protective layer to thin. This is because water dries out the skin. In addition, soap diminishes the fatty compounds in the top layer of the skin, making the problem of dry hands worse. The alcohol in hand sanitisers also dries out the skin. So, it’s really no wonder that in these times, when we’re all diligently washing our hands with soap and water many times a day, that many people are suffering from dry hands.
Symptoms of dry hands and hand eczema
Repeated hand washing can cause skin problems, including:
- Scaly skin.
- Itching skin.
- Red patches and/or bumps.
- Cracked or fissured skin.
When exposed to long-term factors that dry out the skin, this can eventually develop in a type of skin rash called contact dermatitis, or hand eczema. This skin condition is characterised by:
- Red patches.
- Itching skin.
- Bumps and blisters, sometimes with oozing, which can develop into scaly patches.
Chronic hand eczema is characterised by itching, skin thickening and scaling.
Skin conditions related to eczema
The symptoms of dry hands and hand eczema are similar to those of other skin conditions, including psoriasis and rosacea. These skin conditions can also cause dry and flaky skin, red patches and itching. However, rosacea is a skin condition that mainly affects the face. Psoriasis can cover your entire body with a red rash but is less likely to affect the hands. Although similar, these skin conditions are not the same as eczema, hand eczema or dry hands.
When are you likely to develop hand eczema?
Some people are more likely to develop contact dermatitis, or hand eczema, than others. For example, people who:
- Suffered from constitutional eczema, also called atopic eczema, as a child. This sensitivity can continue into adulthood.
- Suffer from asthma and/or hay fever. Research has shown that asthma, hay fever and eczema share many genetic risk factors, which explains why these conditions often coexist.
- Have eczema on other parts of the body.
If your skin is sensitive to eczema, then it’s extra important to keep up a good hand care routine to avoid dry hands.
Can dry, cracked skin leave you open to coronavirus infection
Many people wonder if scrubbing their hands to shreds will leave them more susceptible to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The answer is: no, it doesn’t. According to virologists, the coronavirus can only enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth. The coronavirus cannot enter the body through the skin, even if it is chapped or dry.
So dry hands, eczema or a skin condition like psoriasis or rosacea do not make you more susceptible to becoming infected by coronavirus. However, when you rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth, any virus on your hands can enter your body through mucous membranes in your eyes, nose or mouth. Washing or disinfecting your hands is one of the simplest ways you can protect yourself.
How to avoid dry skin and hand eczema
If your hands are prone to dryness, try to spare your hands as much as possible. But right now, this is easier said than done. In fact, the NHS has a hand-washing procedure that we all need to follow in order to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading. However, there are things we can do to protect our hands, so that we don’t get dry skin or eczema.
- Use pH-neutral soap that is free of fragrance, colourants and preservatives.
- Wash your hands with lukewarm water. Hot water dries out your skin.
- Rinse your hands well. Soap residue can cake on your skin and cause irritation.
- Dab your hands carefully after washing. Rubbing hard with a towel irritates the skin.
- Make sure the skin in between fingers is completely dry. Moist spaces create a welcome environment for the growth of germs.
- Do not wear rings. Moisture and traces of soap under the ring can cause irritation.
- Apply a quality moisturising cream or lotion after washing your hands. Tip: keep a hand cream next to your hand soap to help you get in the habit of moisturising after washing your hands.
What hand cream should I use?
A good moisturising cream keeps the skin soft and smooth by putting a layer of oil on the surface of your skin. This protects the skin against negative external influences and reduces symptoms such as itching and scaling. Glycerine and body lotion are not suitable as hand cream because they contain more water than oil, which only dries out the skin even more. The following products are suitable as moisturisers for dry skin:
- Lanette wax cream or ointment.
- Cetomacrogol cream or ointment.
- Vaseline (or a mixture of Vaseline and lanette wax cream or cetomacrogol);
- Cooling ointment.
These products help reduce and prevent skin problems caused by dry hands and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. And they are available without a prescription from a pharmacy or drugstore. If you use another cream or ointment, make sure the product has a fatty composition and does not contain irritating substances such as colourants, perfume or preservatives.
What if a hand cream doesn’t work?
For skin that is very dry and scaly, your doctor may recommend a special lotion that contains corticosteroids. This medicine is applied to the skin to treat a wide variety of inflammatory skin disorders and associated symptoms such as itching, swelling and redness. Corticosteroid creams should only be used for a short period of time for treating severe eczema or psoriasis.
Tips for protecting your hands
As long as the coronavirus outbreak lasts and a vaccine has not been developed, hand hygiene will continue to play a key role in helping to minimise the spread of infection. This means it isn’t that simple to keep your hands protected. Especially since hands get wet from doing other chores, such as cleaning, cooking and showering. That said, there are several things you can do to keep your skin hydrated and protected.
- If your hands are frequently immersed in water or irritants consider wearing a pair of gloves, preferably with a cotton flock lining.
- Some vegetables and peels of fruits can also cause a skin reaction. Wear vinyl gloves to protect your skin during and/or after preparing food.
- Don’t take long showers and use a mild shower gel and shampoo.
Another tip: one of the best remedies for dry hands is to slather them at night with lotion or a moisturiser, such as Vaseline. Then cover your hands with a pair of soft gloves. Trapping the moisturiser will help it absorb more fully into your skin, and you’ll wake up with baby-smooth hands.
Note: if your dry hands don’t improve with these home treatments and tips, you should seek help from a medical professional. In addition to hand washing, it is also important you follow other NHS guidelines to protect yourself and prevent the spread of the virus.
Dokteronline.com is a platform for connecting patients with doctors and pharmacies, enabling targeted treatment and care. Dokteronline.com believes in responsible self-management of treatable health conditions.
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