Hand dermatitis resulting from frequent handwashing has long been an occupational hazard for people like doctors, dentists, nurses, hairdressers etc. With the recommendations for frequent handwashing during the current Coronavirus epidemic, we are seeing a lot more cases of hand dermatitis in the general population.
Hand dermatitis from handwashing typically occurs on the backs of the hands and not commonly on the palms because the palms have thicker, tougher skin. Washing the skin causes dryness which can be aggravated by using water which is too hot or scrubbing with something like a loofah and/or frequent use of hand sanitizers. This strips the natural oils and protection from the surface of the skin allowing the skin to dry out. The skin then becomes cracked and inflamed in a fairly typical pattern.
While we can’t get away from the frequent handwashing in our current situation, we can mitigate the irritation with a few simple steps. There is no need to use an antibacterial soap for washing so use something which is more gentle and less drying such as Dove unscented bar soap or Castille soap. Use water which is warm but not too hot and don’t wash any longer than the prescribed 20 seconds unless the hands are physically soiled. Dry your hands completely and then replace the moisture with some cream. I like Norwegian Formula hand cream but plain Vaseline, Eucerin or even Crisco, Olive or Coconut Oil that you may have at home will also work effectively.
Peter Jenkin, MD, FRCPC, FAAD
Dermatology Associates of Seattle