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The Perils of Handwashing in the Age of Coronavirus

Virus-conscious citizens are washing their hands and applying sanitizer like there’s no tomorrow. Although hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, consequently, dermatologists are seeing patients come into clinics with dry, red, irritated hands.


According to clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, Shari Marchbein, MD, dry skin can lead to other health problems, specifically eczema and dermatitis rashes, and can exacerbate psoriasis.


Dry skin occurs when the lipid barrier is damaged and the skin becomes severely dehydrated. The lipid layer is designed to protect your hands by keeping in moisture and preventing bacteria and germs from infiltrating the skin. When the barrier is eroded with frequent hand washing and sanitizer, redness and cracks can appear, making us prone to infections.


“Since the protective lipid layer is responsible for keeping moisture in and bacteria and irritants out, dry skin often presents with redness, flaking, itching, and even painful cracks that can leave us susceptible to infections,” says Dr. Marchbein for Allure. “Any break in the skin can do this.”


Even for seriously cautious hand washers like Dr. Marchbein who washes her hands 70 times a day, there are easy ways to rehydrate the skin. Using a soap made with moisturizer and after drying off, applying an ointment or cream that contains olive oil or jojoba oil. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), creams and ointments are better at keeping skin moisturized than lotions. The AAD also recommends avoiding moisturizers that contain alcohol, fragrance, and alpha-hydroxy acid and wearing gloves outdoors in cold weather.

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