The ubiquitous advice to wash your hands to hinder the spread of COVID-19 has led to a catch-22, dermatologists report: Some clinicians are overdoing it.
The apparent ease with which the virus spreads means that healthcare workers are washing or sanitizing their hands hundreds of times each day. But sometimes they’re doing it wrong.
We shouldn’t be washing with harsh soaps over and over again. While these will clear any infectious agent from the skin, at the same time, we’re destroying the protective barrier that protects us from other pathogens.
We need to compensate for the damage we’re inflicting on our skin with frequent handwashing or alcohol-based hand sanitizers. We don’t necessarily need to stop washing our hands as often, but we need to put moisturizer on damp skin to trap water and give our skin what it needs to heal.
Even without soap, water is “probably the number one desiccant that will wash away the moisturizing factors of the skin,”. The top layer of the skin, which some consider dead, is actually quite functional.
Rub Palm to Palm, Back to Back of Hands, Over the Fingers Into the Web Spaces, Around Nails, and Up the Wrists
You don’t want to scrub because scrubbing will damage the skin barrier and possibly let in germs.
You don’t want to scrub because scrubbing will damage the skin barrier and possibly let in germs. As physicians, we want to get the germs off, but sometimes the things we do to do that are counterproductive.
When you’re using hand sanitizer, make sure you’re not putting on just enough to cover your palms. I’ve seen people do one pump of sanitizer, and it doesn’t usually give you enough. You need a good coating all the way to the wrists.
A moisturizer that contains mineral oil or petrolatum is ideal, as are products you can squeeze from a tube rather than a pump, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Also, contrary to advice prevalent on social media, moisturizing after cleansing doesn’t negate handwashing efforts or create vulnerability to pathogens.
When possible, choose paper towels instead of hand dryers, experts advised. Jet dryers in public bathrooms disperse more than 190 times more virus particles than paper towels, according to a 2018 study.
And then there is the widely disseminated advice to avoid touching our faces to stem the spread of COVID-19. This is so difficult, experts explained, because people are more inclined to touch their faces when they are tense.
A lot of people don’t even realize they’re touching their faces. You can team up with a colleague or loved one to watch each other and remind them when it’s happening.
Make it a competition, experts suggested. “We’re really bad at change, so having positive reinforcement and constructive feedback is helpful.”
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) 2020 Annual Meeting.