- Hand eczema cases have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- New guidelines suggest hand cream or ointment should be applied after washing your hands or using hand sanitizer.
- Healthcare workers are at an increased risk for hand eczema because of how frequently they sanitize their hands, drying them out in the process.
In light of a global increase in cases of hand eczema, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is emphasizing the importance of incorporating moisturizing as the final step in the handwashing process. In fact, the AAD published a study officially recommending this step on November 5.
Throughout the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has promoted a five-step hand washing protocol that outlines how and when we should wash our hands to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The steps include:
According to board certified dermatologists, these guidelines need to include moisturizing as the last step.
“Excessive hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer can take away the moisture in the skin and impair the skin barrier,” Carrie Kovarik, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, and professor of dermatology and medicine at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Get Meds Info via email. “Moisturization helps to replace skin lipids (oils) that have been depleted from the washing process and it also helps to improve the skin barrier.”
Kovarik adds that moisturizing is especially important to prevent eczema flares during the winter, when skin tends to be drier.
“In the summer months, [eczema] prevalence was not as high, as the weather brought more humidity,” Kovarik said. “However, I anticipate that the winter months will bring a large increase in cases of hand eczema.”
According to the National Eczema Association (NEA), hand eczema, also called hand dermatitis, is a common condition that affects about 10% of the U.S. population. It is more prevalent among workers in health care, cleaning services, hairdressing, catering, construction, and other jobs where chemicals are used routinely.
“Since COVID-19 started, we are seeing an increased incidence of dermatology consultations for hand eczema attributed to frequent hand washing and sanitization in healthcare workers and the general public around the world,” Rashmi Jindal, MD, study author and professor in the department of dermatology at the Himalyayan Institute of Medical Sciences, Dehradun, tells Get Meds Info via email. “On average, the numbers have at least doubled.
Jindal explains that hand lotions and creams contain humectants, fats, and oils, which can replace depleted skin lipids.
“Regular applications of moisturizing hand creams can even reverse glove-induced maceration and minor erosion,” she says.
Symptoms of Hand Eczema
The NEA says that all types of eczema cause itching and redness to the skin, but hand eczema might look and act a little different. Some symptoms of hand eczema include:
- Dryness to the point of peeling and flaking
What Types of Moisturizers Work Best?
The AAD suggests selecting hand creams or ointments that contain mineral oil or petroleum, come in a tube as oppose to a pump-bottle, and are fragrance- and dye-free.
When and How to Apply Moisturizer
After washing your hands: Dry your hands with a clean towel, but leave them slightly damp. Apply moisturizer to your hands, including fingertips and nails.
After using hand sanitizer: Apply moisturizer immediately after the sanitizer dries.
What This Means For You
Excessively washing your hands and using hand sanitizer can cause dry skin and trigger hand eczema flares. Keeping a travel-size hand cream or ointment with you to use after hand hygiene can protect the integrity of your skin.
Other Tips To Prevent and Heal Dry Skin
According to Jindal, excessive hand washing and sanitizer use can increase the chances of getting hand eczema and should only be practiced during appropriate times throughout the day.
“An [example of] excessive use would be frequently sanitizing hands every now and then even when at home or without touching any surface,” Jindal says. “Another particularly wrong habit is to sanitize hands with alcohol-based hand rub immediately before and after washing with soap.”
In order to avoid excessive hand washing and sanitizer use, the CDC and ADA both recommend only practicing hand hygiene during the following key times:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
- If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, you should immediately clean your hands by either washing them with soap and water or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.