Dr. Ranella Hirsch
Dr. Hirsch is a frequently quoted authority in cosmetic dermatology. Called an "expert derm" by Allure and a "beauty guru" by Marie Claire, Dr. Hirsch is the past President of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery.
Now more than ever, there are so many questions about caring for raw, irritated hands in the new world of COVID-19 and rigorous hand-washing. Indeed, incessant washing along with a heavily irritating sanitizer (>60% ethanol as recommended by The CDC) is creating the condition that many of you are currently experiencing: extremely dry, cracked, and irritated hands. So, by request, here are a few suggestions.
1. Wash with lukewarm water.
It matters. We think of steaming hot as the way to go, but the cleansing effect is the same as with lukewarm water and is less likely to worsen irritation. (Source: CDC)
2. Pick the right soap.
The thing about soap is that pretty much any soap will do. Additional antibacterial ingredients are not necessary and likely irritating. When you wash hands with soap and water, microorganisms on the skin are surrounded by soap molecules. Because of its unique hybrid structure, soap (a surfactant) breaks things down at a molecular level, destroying the virus. (Check out this incredible NYT article for more.) As a consequence, you should select the option that will get the job done but still be gentle to your skin.
It is best to avoid fragrances and detergent sulfate ingredients since many people are irritated by them. Instead, look for ingredients that hydrate (such as ceramides and glycerin) and soothe (like chamomile and green tea).
In addition, don’t overdo it. Experts recommend using a quarter-sized amount of soap; more than that will likely just strip the skin’s natural oils and increase the irritation but not the effectiveness. Excellent choices abound but one good inexpensive option is the Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar.
3. Look at the labels.
Choose items labeled fragrance-free, which means that no fragrances are added. It’s really important to keep in mind that something labeled fragrance-free is NOT the same thing as something labeled unscented. Things that are labeled unscented often contain a masking fragrance to neutralize or “mask” the scent of other ingredients, and that masking fragrance can itself irritate, and is best avoided. (Source: EPA)
4. Apply a moisturizer.
The best practice is after a thorough hand washing (Source: CDC) to apply a moisturizing product. Ideally, selecting a thicker lotion or cream (fragrance-free) is best. This application should be done after every hand washing. There are many excellent products available at all price points; here are a few I recommend:
5. Protect your hands.
Should you need to do any water-based activities with your hands (such as washing dishes or gardening), use a pair of cotton-lined rubber gloves to protect your hands.