You've likely heard the phrase "wash your hands" many times over the years, repeated like a mantra. It's what your parents always said after you returned home from playing outside and before sitting down to dinner. And it's what your doctor touts as your best defense during cold and flu season.
But let's face it. While washing your hands is one of the best ways to keep germs at bay, frequently sudsing up your hands does have a downside: dry, flaky, and cracked skin.
Getting dry skin from handwashing can be bothersome, but with a little extra TLC (and a good moisturizer), you can keep your skin soft, smooth, and healthy.
Caring for Dry Skin from Handwashing
Just like anywhere else on your body, the skin on your hands is made up of multiple layers. In the outermost layer of your epidermis (also known as the stratum corneum), lipids and other cells are stacked together like bricks and mortar to create a protective barrier. In order to function properly, says Harvard Medical School, this barrier layer should be between 20 percent and 30 percent water.
Your skin can start to lose moisture in many situations—like when the weather is cold and windy, after a too-hot shower, upon getting a sunburn, and from frequent handwashing. When this layer becomes dehydrated, your skin can start to feel dry and irritated.
But according to the Mayo Clinic, dry skin is usually a temporary condition. You can easily treat it with a couple of simple steps.
Your first and best line of defense against dry skin from handwashing is hand cream. Moisturizer adds back some of the hydration lost during the handwashing process. So, after you've vigorously lathered your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, rinse and apply moisturizer while your hands are still slightly damp. This will help lock in extra hydration.
Another tip is to skip the harsh soaps. Soap works by lifting dirt and germs off the skin's surface so they can more easily be rinsed away. But, it can also strip away your skin's natural oils, which usually keep it moisturized. Fragranced or antibacterial soap and those containing alcohol can make dry skin worse. Stick with natural mild soaps with added oils instead.
If soaps and lotions don't relieve the problem and your dry, scaly, or cracked skin persists, schedule an appointment with your Dermatologist, as there might be a more serious underlying condition.
Choosing the Best Lotion for Frequently Washed Hands
When shopping for a hand cream or lotion, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
If you're looking for the best lotion for frequently washed hands, you'll want to find products that contain ingredients like ceramides. These are emollients, preparations that contain both oil and water, that help your skin retain water and make it feel smooth. A 2019 study published in the journal Dermatologic Therapy found that moisturizers containing ceramides improve both skin hydration and skin barrier function. Other ingredients like glycerin and lactic acid may also help. Further, thicker lotions tend to work better because they have more staying power.
And don't worry—you can't apply too much hand cream or lotion. Go ahead and apply whenever your hands feel a little parched.
Washing your hands often is just good practice, so take the time to find a soap and moisturizer that works for you. And remember to talk to your Dermatologist if you have questions or concerns about your skin.