Handwashing Best Practices & Skin Health Tips

March 30, 2020

Closeup of someone washing hands

Frequent hand washing is one of the top recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we agree with and support this recommendation from leading healthcare and safety personnel, but we also want to ensure our patients and dermatology team members are washing their hands properly, using the right products, and keeping their skin healthy. In this blog, you’ll find information about hand hygiene best practices and how to minimize risk for skin irritation, dryness, and infection from over-washing while still protecting yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19.

Why Handwashing is so Important to Disease Control & Prevention

We interact with the world and other people in many ways, but touch is one important way we navigate our daily lives. From shaking hands to opening doors, the ability to touch is essential for a variety of daily functions. Unfortunately, numerous germs that lead to bacterial and viral infections are transmitted first from things that we touch onto our hands before ending up in our body where they can cause illness. To safely go out into the world when you need to during the COVID-19 pandemic, thorough handwashing is a must. Some of the many reasons why handwashing protects you from infection include:

  • When you come into contact with germs, you may unconsciously touch your face, allowing the germs to get into your eyes, nose, or mouth, which can make you sick.
  • If you have cuts or sores on your body, germs on the hands can be transferred into these wounds, increasing the risk for infection.
  • Germs on the hands can be transferred to the surfaces of handrails, doorknobs, and other items that may be touched by others who are then exposed to the bacteria and increased risk for disease or infection.
  • Germs on hands can get into foods or drinks, leading to illness.

When to Wash Your Hands

While washing hands is an important way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, over-washing can breakdown the body’s natural immune response, leaving you at increased risk for infection, skin dryness, irritation, and flareups of chronic conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Remember, handwashing or using hand sanitizer every few minutes isn’t necessary unless there is a reason to rewash your hands. The CDC recommends handwashing in the following situations:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • After using the restroom
  • After changing diapers or helping young children in the restroom
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • After caring for an animal or handling pet food or treats
  • After touching garbage
  • Anytime your hands are visibly dirty or feel greasy or sticky

How to Wash Your Hands

You have likely encountered a few videos, images, and online tutorials about effective handwashing at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, but it never hurts to review the basics one more time to ensure everyone has access to hand hygiene best practices. To thoroughly clean your hands, keep the following handwashing process in mind:

  • Wet hands with clean running water.
  • Apply soap and lather to cover the palms and backs of hands, between fingers, and under fingernails.
  • Once your hands have soap on all surfaces, you should continue to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. You’ve probably seen the videos with people singing songs to help them make sure it’s been 20 seconds. Join in by humming the “Happy Birthday” song, setting a timer, or finding some other way to make sure you’re getting your hands completely clean and free from germs.
  • Rinse your hands completely under running water.
  • Dry your hands with a towel or air dryer.
  • If you notice your hands are dry or cracked or you want to prevent excessive dryness, apply a moisturizing cream after you wash. Apply lotion while hands are still a little damp to help lock in moisture.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is not an effective alternative to handwashing. We cannot emphasize this enough. Using hand sanitizer is fine if you are in a situation where you cannot wash your hands, but you should always wash hands when possible, especially if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy. When you need to use sanitizer, choose a product that is between 60 and 90% isopropyl alcohol. Take the following steps to appropriately apply hand sanitizer:

  • Place a dime to quarter-sized dollop of hand sanitizer into the palm of one hand. You need to use enough hand sanitizer that both hands can be covered with the product.
  • Spread the sanitizer over all hand surfaces (palms, backs of hands, between fingers).
  • Continue to rub hands together until the sanitizer is completely absorbed. This should take about 20 to 30 seconds.

Best Soap for Hand Washing

As long as you follow good handwashing practices, the type of soap or ingredients are not necessarily very important. As is always the case, we recommend individuals who have sensitive skin use gentle cleansers with just a few, simple ingredients. Discontinue the use of any handwash or other skincare products if you notice signs of irritation like rashes, bumps, or hives.

Keeping Hands Moisturized with Frequent Handwashing

Both frequent handwashing and hand sanitizer usage will dry out hands. When skin is dry, our natural barrier of protection weakens. This increases the risk of infection, inflammation, and other health concerns.  To limit risk, you should use hand cream to restore moisture balance and protect your skin’s natural immunity. Any moisturizer is better than none, but the best moisturizers will combine occlusives, humectants, and emollients. Occlusives, like petroleum jelly and shea butter, are oil-based and help to smooth skin and prevent moisture loss. Humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid increase moisture in the outer layers of skin by pulling moisture from the air and deeper skin layers. Emollients are lipids and oils that soften skin, cover cuts or sores, and protect the skin.

Contact U.S. Dermatology Partners to Learn More

During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Dermatology Partners locations are doing our utmost to offer continued services for our patients. For your health and safety and that of our clinicians, we are encouraging all patients to schedule telehealth sessions. These online appointments closely mimic the structure of in-office visits. You can see and speak to your dermatologist face to face, and we can offer condition evaluation and treatment planning for our patients while they remain safely in the comfort of their own homes. You can learn more about teledermatology sessions on our website or by contacting your dermatologist.

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