A dermatologist’s advice – including how to care for over-sanitized hands.

Now more than ever, we’re constantly washing our hands with soap and water or using harsh hand sanitizers. It’s important to know which products are effective at removing viruses and bacteria from your hands and how to care for your skin to minimize irritation.

What products are effective at killing viruses and bacteria?

While many of us like to use fragrant hand soaps and sanitizers, they aren’t ideal for skin health. Even though they’re effective at killing viruses and bacteria on the hands, the fragrance that creates wonderful aromas is irritating to the skin. Fragrance pulls moisture from our skin, making it more dry, sensitive and irritated than it already is. It’s best to opt for fragrance-free products.

When you’re looking at soap ingredients, know that a specific ingredient isn’t needed to be effective. The Food and Drug Administration says there’s no proof that consumer-labeled “anti-bacterial” soap is better at preventing illness or infection than ordinary soap and water. Viruses, in particular COVID-19, are coated with a lipid envelope, and soap dissolves this protective barrier. That makes the virus unstable and less likely to survive – regardless of whether the product is labeled anti-bacterial or not.

The physical act of lathering soap, washing and then rinsing reduces most of the viruses and bacteria on the hands. It doesn’t make a difference if hot or cold running water are used to wash hands. Still, it’s best to use lukewarm water, as water that’s too hot will cause the skin to become drier.

If you’re shopping for hand sanitizer, those with 60% or greater ethyl alcohol disrupt the RNA molecules in the virus, which prevents it from replicating (making copies of itself). Try to stick to fragrance-free options. Although soap and water are more effective at cleaning hands due to the scrubbing action, sanitizer is a good alternative if soap isn’t available. However, if your hands are soiled, sanitizer shouldn’t be used.

How to care for your skin

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. You cannot overuse moisturizer. When you’re deciding what product to use, look for lotions that are fragrance-free and contain ceramide. That’s an ingredient found in our skin that helps trap water in the skin and maintain the barrier.

Alternatively, if you don’t have or can’t find a ceramide-containing moisturizer, plain petroleum jelly is fine. Oils are less effective at moisturizing the skin, since they sit on the surface and don’t help restore the normal barrier function like ceramide does. If you’re using an over-the-counter moisturizer and it’s not enough to combat dry, irritated skin, see a board-certified dermatologist for other options.

By Shilpi Khetarpal, M.D., Contributor
Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, is a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Published June 17, 2020
https://health.usnews.com