As we continue our battle against COVID-19, handwashing is one of the most effective preventive strategies.

Hand Washing in the COVID-19 Era: Protection from Eczema

WHO and CDC Recommend:

  • Frequent handwashing lasting at least 20 seconds with soap and lukewarm water.
  • Usage of hand sanitisers containing at least 60% or more of absolute alcohol to be effective.

Both the above recommendations dry out the skin on the hands and in extreme cases lead to hand eczema and irritant contact dermatitis. Your hands become chapped, develop cracks and painful blisters too erupt. In extreme cases, such as in people with pre-existing hand eczema and psoriasis, the whole scenario is a disaster.

So, here are some pointers to help you protect yourself and answer your doubts:

1) Between soap/water and alcohol rub, which is better?

  • Soap and water wash, when done correctly is adequate, as long as you moisturise yours hands right after.
  • There is no need to use an alcohol hand rub right after the soap & water wash. This will result in excessive drying of the skin.
  • If there is no access to water, you can use an alcohol rub and moisturise your hands right after the alcohol dries.

2) How do I protect myself against dryness and eczema?

  • After soap water wash, pat dry - don’t rub dry.
  • While your hands are still damp, apply generous amounts of moisturiser. Don’t miss the area around the nails and in-between the fingers.

3) Does applying a moisturiser bring down the efficacy of soap or alcohol rub?

No, it does not. In fact, by healing your skin the moisturiser gives you better protection against germs, which may otherwise enter through the cracked skin.

4) How do I choose my hand moisturiser?

  • You don’t need fancy stuff! Go for the basics; they work the best. Your moisturiser should be:
  • Non-perfumed
  • Dye-free
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Mineral oil/petroleum-based

Make sure you choose a moisturiser that is packed in a tube and avoid pump bottles. The ones that have colloidal oatmeal have added anti-inflammatory effects and can be used by those suffering from severe eczema.

5) How to prevent eczema/psoriasis from worsening due to frequent hand wash?

  • Make diligent use of moisturisers, as mentioned previously.
  • Make use of nitrile gloves. Avoid latex gloves as they may give you an allergy.
  • Wear gloves while using strong antiseptic solutions to clean surfaces and while handling chilly/garlic/tamarind and citrus fruits.
  • Use a thin pair of cotton gloves after applying the right dose of moisturiser. Keep them on overnight.
  • If your eczema/psoriasis worsens, consult your dermatologist immediately for further treatment.

6) Can I use soap substitutes containing moisturiser to wash my hands instead of regular soap?

The British Association of Dermatology states that soap substitutes are less effective than regular soap to wash away germs. So, stick to regular soap & water wash.

Dr. Shwetha Rahul

Dr. Shwetha Rahul
Consultant Dermatologist,
Kauvery Hospital, Chennai

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