How to Wash Your Hands While Avoiding Dryness

Many people are increasing their hand washing right now in order to help prevent illness. It may sound ironic, but when we frequently wash and sanitize our skin, we can develop cracks which can actually increase entry points for harmful bacteria. Since frequent hand washing is something we must all be doing, there are steps we can take to protect our health and skin at the same time.

woman washing hands

“Coronavirus is changing some of our hygiene habits. People are washing hands more frequently with soap and water,” says Dr. Mary Stevenson, an assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health, who says she washes her hands about 75 times per day. “You’re supposed to do it for 20 seconds, and often, people fall short of this. If they’re doing it the whole time now, they might have issues, especially in the winter, with dry and cracked skin.”

First, let's cover how to wash your hands correctly:

  1. Wet both hands completely.
  2. Apply a generous amount of soap to the inside and back of your hands. Scrub your hands together for at least 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice or the chorus of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" if you want to get fancy). Don't forget to wash under fingernails and jewelry. Scrub all the way up to your wrists.
  3. Return your hands to warm running water. If the water is too hot, this can lead to dry skin in the long run.
  4. Dry your hands. If available, disposable paper towels are preferable to avoid the spread of germs.

How to care for your hands:

  • Instead of using a rubbing motion when drying, opt for patting your skin dry.
  • Leave your hands just a little bit damp, that way when you apply moisturizer it traps in the water.
  • Look for a soap that's mild and free of fragrances and dyes. You definitely don't want to be using harsh soap that's meant to wash your pots and pans.
  • Choose a cream that's formulated for hands. These tend to be richer and more nourishing than body lotions.

woman applying lotion to hands

If you already have damaged skin, because let's face it, cold weather plus increased hand washing can really wreak havoc on our skin, you can try the following:

  • Lather your hands in a thick cream or vaseline and place your hands in either cotton gloves or socks, if you're in a pinch.