As we all look to keep our hands cleaner than a surgeon’s scalpel, many of us are discovering the discomfort of dry, cracked hands for the first time. Fortunately, we’ve got some simple tips that should help to reduce the dryness and irritation that your rough hands are currently facing.
But first, we’d like to point out that you should’ve always been washing your hands! It’s not a new rule; you were taught it in primary school… That’s why it’s even stranger to hear that amid the current coronavirus outbreak, millions of us have apparently only just discovered this basic habit of hygiene. We suppose it doesn’t really matter that you weren’t before – all that matters is that you are now, which is keeping you and others safe.
Why are your hands so dry at the moment?
As we all up the ante on our hygiene routines, it’s only natural that our hands are taking a bit of a battering. That’s because for every 20-second soapy scrub that we give them, they dry out just a little bit more. How ironic, right? This doesn’t mean you should stop washing your hands, but you should understand the reasons behind the dryness…
Firstly, many of the anti-bacterial hand washes and sanitisers that we’ve stocked our cupboards full of contain a high volume of ethanol (ethyl alcohol). This active ingredient is fantastic at killing off nasty bacteria, but it also strips away a great amount of your skin’s natural moisture.
Secondly, it’s simply biology! Our hands have far less sebaceous glands than other areas of our body. Sebaceous glands are responsible for secreting sebum oil onto the skin, which helps to protect it from external forces, while adding moisture.
When we increase the frequency that we wash our hands, we drastically reduce the amount of sebum oil that’s secreted onto these areas. This in turn reduces the amount of protection and moisture our hands receive, leading to further dryness.
Thirdly, many hand soaps contain an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS). This chemical is used to encourage foaming and works as a surfactant, trapping oil-based dirt so that it can be rinsed away easily with water. It’s also renowned for drying out your skin and causing irritation.
How to protect your hands from endless washing
Now that you know the causes, what are the solutions? There are a number of different practices you can put in place to reduce the impacts of frequent hand washing on your skin, and we’ve listed a few of them below. Some are more obvious than others, but sometimes it’s the easy things that make all the difference.
Dry your hands properly
Stop with the wrist flicking and jean smearing – it’s time to dry your hands properly, like your mother taught you! Grab yourself a Hand Towel and pay close attention to the gaps between your fingers and the centres of your palms. Try to avoid rubbing too. Instead, pat your hands dry as this will help to reduce further irritation to any sensitive areas.
Drying your hands properly is perhaps the most important advice we can give you, as failing to do so can result in the entire hand washing operation being a waste of time. If you don’t dry your hands properly, you’re more likely to leave soap lingering between your pores, which can cause further irritation. Damp hands are also more likely to attract and trap germs – the complete opposite of what you were aiming for.
Use SLS-free soaps
Despite what marketers might say, soaps, shampoos and shower gels that don’t contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) will do just as fine a job as those that do. So, if you suffer from sensitive skin, try opting for hand soaps that are SLS-free.
Sometimes, companies will use sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (SLSA) as a substitute for SLS. SLSA is much kinder to skin and is derived from natural oils, such as coconut. Keep an eye out for glycerin-based soaps too, as they are great at locking extra moisture into the skin.
Apply a moisturiser to your hands
The simple fact is that you’re going to be washing your hands frequently for the foreseeable future, which means you’ll need to support them with a little extra TLC. That’s why a well-balanced moisturiser or hand cream should be at the top of your shopping list.
These creams will help to replenish dehydrated skin, restoring your natural barrier against bad bacteria. Look out for moisturisers that include anti-inflammatory ingredients such as jojoba oil and fenugreek too, as these will help to soothe irritation and calm redness quickly.
Once you find a cream that you like, apply it morning and evening after washing and drying your hands with a suitable soap. Be sure to pay attention to the gaps between your fingers, as well as your palms and the back of your hands. Try to resist the urge to wipe away any residue that’s left on the skin straight after application as this will soak in naturally after just a few minutes.
Grab a pair of gloves when washing up
A pair of marigolds might not fit into your usual suave style, but they’ll certainly help to protect your hands from the effects of washing-up liquids and cleaning detergents. Just like hand sanitisers and some soaps, the chemicals in these cleansing products will only add to the discomfort your hands are already in.
If you’re really not keen on gloves, then the only other way around this is abstain from washing up altogether! Maybe you can convince someone else in your household to take up the chore…