Celestine Wong is a dermatologist consultant at Monash Health.
Rosemary Nixon is an honorary clinical associate professor at the University of Melbourne. This story originally appeared in “Dialogue”.
Washing hands is one of the key ways we work together to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water regularly for at least 20 seconds, or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a key step to reduce risk.
However, by washing all these hands, it is easy to dry the skin or make the existing skin condition worse.
What’s wrong with our skin?
The top layer of the skin (cuticle) is the key protective layer of the skin. However, frequent hand washing and repeated contact with water, soap and skin cleansers will destroy this layer.
Over time, this can lead to dry skin, further destruction and inflammation of the skin barrier.
Eventually leads to hand dermatitis, or more specifically, irritant contact dermatitis.
Who is most likely to encounter this situation?
Irritation contact dermatitis is more common among people who are engaged in “wet work” because they wash and dry their hands every day.
They include health care workers (doctors, nurses, personal care assistants), hairdressers, food handlers, kitchen workers and cleaners. They may also be exposed to irritating skin cleansers and cleansers.
But now during the COVID-19 pandemic, hand washing becomes more and more frequent, and there may be more affected people outside these occupations.
People with eczema, asthma, and hay fever are also more likely to develop irritant contact dermatitis or latent eczema.
How to prevent hand dermatitis?
Soap, soap substitute or hand sanitizer
People with eczema or people who have been exposed to dermatitis are more likely to be irritated. Although they can still use hand sanitizer, it is recommended to use mild soap-free detergent instead of regular soap to wash hands.
Soap-free cleaners contain non-soap-based synthetic cleaners (detergents). Syndets have almost the same disinfectant effect as soap, but have the same pH benefits as the skin. This means that they are unlikely to remove oil from the outer layer of the skin and are less irritating.
Soap has a high pH and is very alkaline. This destroys the outer layer of the skin, allowing soap to penetrate deeper into the skin, causing more skin irritation and itching.
Others without a history of eczema or contact dermatitis should use soap. Liquid soaps usually contain spices and preservatives, which can cause another type of dermatitis (allergic contact dermatitis), so choose pure, unscented soaps.
Dry your hands thoroughly
Dry your hands thoroughly, including the water under your fingers and under your rings, to reduce dermatitis caused by water accumulation. When too much moisture, soap residue and moisture remaining under the skin and ring, it may cause skin irritation and decomposition.
Use fragrance-free moisturizer regularly
Moisturizers have different formulas. Although the lotions are light and consistent and easy to use during the day, they will need to be used more frequently. Creams and ointments are thicker and more greasy. They are effective for dry hands and are best used overnight.
Perfume can cause allergic contact dermatitis, and it is best to avoid it if possible.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (if possible)
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer reduces skin contact with water, thereby reducing the risk of dermatitis. This is a good choice when you are away from home and cannot use the sink.
Hygienic studies have shown that hand disinfectants cause less contact dermatitis than washing with soap and water.