For weeks, medical experts and governments have reminded us that washing our hands frequently is the best way to protect ourselves from and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The #20SecondChallenge and #WashYourLyrics challenges were even born to help us find something other than “Happy Birthday” to sing as we scrub! While we must keep up this life-saving practice, there are ways to mitigate the havoc it’s wreaking on our hands.
Whether you’re using water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, you’re likely experiencing dry and cracked hands as the oils and wax that normally maintain moisture and protect the skin are stripped away from repeated washing. Some of us may also be suffering from irritant contact dermatitis of the hands — a form of eczema that produces itchiness, redness and/or painful cracks or blisters — thanks to ongoing exposure to detergents found in many soaps and sanitizers.
Dermatological issues are one of the most common subjects of consultations on the Akira by TELUS Health app; we spoke with April Stewart, the platform’s NP National Lead and Manager of Clinical Operations, to glean some tips for minimizing damage caused by hand-washing and for healing our dry hands during the coronavirus pandemic.
To minimize hand-washing damage
- Use soap and water instead of hand sanitizer whenever possible
- Even if it’s still cold outside, use lukewarm (not hot) water to wash your hands
- Use fragrance-free hand soap
- Pat your hands dry rather than rubbing them — but dry them thoroughly
- Wear gloves when cleaning and sanitizing your home to avoid exposure to skin irritants, as well as when gardening or doing any task that exposes hands to friction
To treat dry & damaged hands
- Moisturize regularly — ideally after every hand wash — using a fragrance-free, dermatologist-recommended hand cream. Creams absorb best when applied to damp hands, but if you’ve used hand sanitizer, you must allow it to dry fully before applying cream in order for the sanitizer to be effective.
- Invest in a hand cream instead of using a body lotion on your hands. Typically, the greasier the better when it comes to hand cream! (Trust reliable resources like the Canadian Dermatology Association, your primary care provider or a medical professional via your virtual care platform for recommendations.)
- Treat your hands by applying a thick layer of cream under cotton gloves, if you have them, before bed.
- If a good hand cream isn’t working and you’re experiencing inflammation, redness and painful cracks and/or blisters, start a consult on your virtual care platform. Your care provider may suggest a low-dose, over-the-counter steroid cream.