A Dermatologist’s Guide To Healing Dry Hands If You’re Washing Them Constantly

ILLUSTRATED BY ANNA SUDIT.
With coronavirus currently at the forefront of everyone's mind and cases rising in the UK, we're taking measures to prevent spreading the virus very seriously. This includes keeping a bottle of hand sanitiser close and washing our hands much more than usual.
But constant washing and exposing hands to drying alcohol gels can have an adverse effect on skin: cue excessive dryness and in some cases, sore, cracked and weeping skin. At this point, you might reach for your trusty hand cream, but being advised to wash your hands at every given opportunity feels as though you're just going round in circles. Thankfully, consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto understands the struggle. Earlier this week, she took to Instagram to share her expert advice for taking care of the skin on your hands when you're washing them constantly and it's actually pretty simple.
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"Repeated use of soaps, detergents and alcohol gel are a common and important cause of what is known as irritant contact dermatitis," Dr Mahto wrote on Instagram. "These products can damage proteins in the upper layer of our epidermis and cause changes in the fats in our skin." Dr Mahto continued: "Clinically, the hands can become red, rough, scaly, dry, cracked, and fissured (where small cuts appear in the skin). You may feel the hands have a burning or tingling sensation or feel itchy and irritated. In severe cases the skin may become blistered, painful and form crusts. This problem can develop in anyone who is frequently washing their hands, which is probably all of us right now!"
According to Dr Mahto, there are a number of easy, tried and tested measures which can be taken to treat hand dermatitis effectively, as well as prevent it from developing in the first place. "Make sure you carry a non-fragranced hand cream at all times and get into the habit of moisturising after washing," Dr Mahto wrote. She recommends CeraVe Reparative Hand Cream, £5.50, Norwegian Formula Hand Cream, £3.99, and La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 Hand Cream, £7.50.
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Making sure your hand cream is fragrance-free is the key. "Fragrances can potentially worsen dermatitis," wrote Dr Mahto, "so as a rule of thumb, if it smells good, unfortunately you probably want to stay away from it for active hand eczema.⁣"
Dr Mahto also recommends buying some cotton gloves to help your hand cream work harder. "Before sleep at night, apply a generous layer of hand cream to both hands. Placing them into the gloves whilst you sleep overnight is like doing an intense 'hand mask', providing relief for chapped skin.⁣"


Secondly, Dr Mahto advises washing your hands with an antimicrobial hand wash such as Dermol 500 Lotion, £11.94. "Use this instead of soap as a cream wash and rinse off as normal," wrote Dr Mahto. "It doesn’t have the convenience of alcohol gel when you are out and about but use it at home or decant a small amount into a travel container and carry it with you for use during the day. This is normally what I recommend to my eczema patients.⁣"
It is also advised to wear gloves if you are cleaning or washing up to protect the hands from irritants or chemicals, Dr Mahto added. "Try not to get the hands wet or irritated any more times than is absolutely necessary, and wear gloves outside. The weather is cold right now and cold air and exposure to the elements can further worsen dryness and hand eczema. The rest of our body is protected by clothing but our face and hands bear the brunt of environmental exposure to cold, wind and pollution.⁣"

Finally, Dr Mahto mentioned that if your hands are cracked or bleeding, then you must seek help from your GP or dermatologist. "Once hand eczema becomes problematic, it may require treatment with a short, sharp burst of topical steroid treatment which requires prescription," wrote Dr Mahto. "When used for appropriate periods of time under expert guidance you should not suffer with any long-term side effects of steroid use. The purpose of the steroid ointment is to reduce inflammation and allow the skin to heal and recover. If treatment is not offered, the eczema will not only cause discomfort, but may restrict your daily activities and the skin becomes vulnerable to infection as it is no longer functioning appropriately as a barrier.⁣"

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