How to deal with dry, cracking hands with all the hand sanitising and washing you're doing

woman moisturizing dry cracked hands
All the hand washing is important, but it can leave your hands feeling cracked and dry. Photo credit: Getty.

Most of us have upped our hand washing and sanitising game since the COVID-19 outbreak. Reminders are everywhere on social media and public notices, and finally those hand sanitiser machines at the supermarket and gym are getting a good workout. 

But while stopping the spread of germs is important, the frequent hand washing, drying and sanitising can be irritating on the skin, particularly for those who are prone to dryness and conditions like psoriasis and eczema. 

"Coronavirus is changing some of our hygiene habits. People are washing hands more frequently with soap and water," Dr Mary Stevenson, a professor of dermatology at New York University told Time.

"If they're doing it the whole time now, they might have issues, especially in the winter, with dry and cracked skin."

With the weather cooling off it's definitely something to think about, especially as the oily outermost layer of our skin acts as both a shield from the outside and a guard that maintains natural moisture. The suds created by soap do not discriminate between unwanted oil, germs, debris and natural oils in the skin.

So without ceasing hand washing efforts (don't do that!), how can we take good care of our delicate skin at this time, without the backs of the hands getting drier than the sahara desert? 

Use a mild soap and sanitiser

Somewhat surprisingly, hand sanitiser is less drying on hands than soap according to Dr Justin Ko, chief of medical dermatology at Stanford Health Care.

Ko suggests using hand sanitisers when it makes the most sense, like after touching a door handle or another surface that might carry germs, instead of repeatedly washing your hands. When you do need to wash your hands - before eating, when getting home etc - use a gentle soap with no fragrances or irritants. 

"You don't want to use something that's meant to clean the pasta sauce off your bowl," he says. 

Leave a little dampness

Mayo Clinic dermatologist Alina Bridges told USA Today that using a hand cream as soon as you've washed your hands is important "because you want to kind of seal it and prevent some of this dryness from occurring". While we all may be stringently washing and drying, Bridges recommends we don't "overdry" our hands. Instead, a little dampness helps seal in the moisturiser and let it absorb better. 

Use a 'hand cream' over a standard moisturiser

There's a good chance you've never considered the difference. But Bridges told USA Today that most lotions are water-based, which means they may dry out the skin more. Thicker products labelled as hand creams are typically oil-based and more effective.

As for what kind of hand creams: make sure the products are free of irritants like retinol or those labeled "anti-aging". For sensitive hands, opt for fragrance-free products that may have dimethicone, polyuronic acid or shea butter.

Go a step further

If your hands are really suffering, considering adding some moisturising gloves into your nighttime beauty routine. They may feel a bit silly to have on, but act as a deeper moisturisation - just like a hair or face mask on the rest of your body. Just slather on a luciours hand cream or body butter, then pop on the gloves to really let it absorb. The Body Shop and Mecca both have some cute ones, otherwise your local pharmacy should have a great option for a cheaper price.