Mild soap, moisturiser help heal dry hands

Mild soap, moisturiser help heal dry hands

While hand washing helps combat Covid-19, it also leaves you with dry skin. Here's how to tackle that

Dr Shireen Furtado

Excessive hand washing without proper moisturisation can leave your skin dry, irritated and  itchy, and in some cases, it can crack and even bleed. 

After the virus outbreak, washing our hands have become more frequent and thorough. While this helps one stay clear of infection, constant use of soap and water leads to dry and patchy skin. 

Metrolife spoke to a few dermatologists to understand why this happens and what you can do to combat it. 

Dr Shireen Furtado, consultant, medical and cosmetic dermatology, Aster CMI Hospital says that this is a common complaint among many of her patients. 

“Our skin is coated by a fatty layer called lipids that prevents the water that is inside our body from evaporating outside,” she says, adding, “When we wash our hands we are removing this layer of fat and allowing the water that is trapped under the skin to escape.”  

While soaps themselves are enough to cause the damage, we are also using alcohol-based sanitisers, which too removes the layer of lipids from the skin making it extremely sensitive and dry. 

Dr Sravya Chowdary Tipirneni, consultant dermatologist and cosmetologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Whitefield further explains this with an analogy. “The structure of our skin is like brick and mortar, with lipids being the mortar. While washing them away is what is need to clean the skin, we are also making the structure unstable. This makes skin more prone to dryness, irritation, itching and in worst-case scenarios bleeding and cracks.” 

Dr Shireen adds that the lack of lipids can also make the skin more prone to allergic reactions such as dermatitis or cumulative insult dermatitis.  “The latter is when a substance, when used over time, becomes an irritant to the skin. In this case soap itself could end up causing irritation,” she explains

“Now with this lockdown, more people are washing dishes and clothes, increasing their soap usage, which increases the amount of irritation exponentially,” she adds. 

But since hand washing is extremely important in the current scenario, here are a few tips to keep your skin healthy without compromising on cleanliness. 

Pick the right soap

Dr Shireen recommends using a gentle soap, preferably one from the Cetaphil range. “They are meant for newborn skin and they don’t foam as much as regular soap but does the job of cleaning just as effectively,” she says. 

Bar soaps are the least preferred as they have a higher pH and they tend to dry out skin more while not necessarily providing any extra protection, says Dr Sravya. 

“A liquid soap is milder and have an inbuilt moisturising element. Non-fragrant ones are the way to go, especially for people who have pre-existing skin conditions that are prone to irritation,” she suggests. 

Temperature of the water

“People tend to think that using very hot water tends to kill germs but in reality, it doesn’t. But what it does is strip off the skin’s oil further,” says Dr Sravya. She recommends lukewarm or room temperature water; cold water is the best option, any day. 

Compromise on fragrance

Alcohol-based sanitisers can be extremely drying but since that is the need of the hour, the ingredient can’t be compromised on. However, it is best to use non-fragrant varieties. 

Dr Sravya says, “Hospital grade alcohol rubs are less harmful than the average sanitiser. If you can get your hands on one of them, it is always recommended, as they have an inbuilt moisturiser in them.”  

Moisturising is key

Use any emollient lotion to keep the skin smooth and supple. Oils such as coconut oil or a light moisturiser should be used soon after handwash. 

Dr Sravya emphasises why the timing of application is important. “The whole point of a moisturiser is to hold the moisture in. The trick is to apply it as soon as you wash your hands,” she says. She instructs one to pat-dry their hands as opposed to wiping and apply the cream right after.

“If you’re going to be handling food, which could also include potential irritants such as lemon and onions. It is recommended that you use cooking oil to protect your hands,” adds Dr Shireen. 


Choosing the right moisturiser

It is important to first understand the difference between a lotion and a moisturiser. Dr Sravya explains, “Lotion is water-based and they tend to dry out really quickly. This is why lotion is not preferable. Their effects last for just around 10 minutes as it tends to evaporate.” 

She explains that moisturisers and specialised creams for hands and feet are oil-based and they have a substance called a humectant. 

They absorb moisture from the atmosphere, so it keeps working for longer hours after it’s  applied. Urea, lactic acid and even honey are humectants. 

Skin experts also suggest that this is not the right time to use creams that have anti-ageing agents as they tend to contain retinol and that dries out skin even more. 


Know the difference: moisturiser vs lotion

Moisturiser is always thicker. An example is petroleum jelly. It is greasy and oily. 

Lotions are thin, easily spreadable, get absorbed really quickly. 

The same brand can sell both variants. Take for example the Nivea cream that comes in the blue tub. This is a moisturiser while the bottles contain lotions.

For people with eczema and psoriasis

Dr Sravya says applying a thick layer of moisturiser on your hands and covering it with cotton gloves for two to three hours or even overnight, helps replenish your skin and keeps it healthy. 

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