We’re all washing our hands pretty much constantly right now, and a lot of us are experiencing dryness, irritation, and even cracked skin as a result—especially as we start to head into colder months. Heightened hand washing can be very harsh on the skin because it constantly puts our moisture barriers under strain. Here are eight tips to keep your hands healthy and hydrated while continuing to wash them often.
Hand Washing Tips to Prevent Dryness
While it may seem like frequent hand washing will inevitably lead to scaly hands and cracked knuckles, there are definitely preventative measures you can take to minimize its drying effects. Here are my expert tips:
1. Use a Moisturizing, Sulfate-Free Hand Wash
You’ve probably already heard of sulfates—they’re found in lots of different beauty products. Sulfates help create a lather and produce foam. They are a type of surfactant, which is a cleansing agent that breaks down oil and grime on the skin. While breaking down oil and grime on your hands sounds like a good thing, the problem is that sulfates also strip away your skin’s natural, protective oils and pull water out of the skin. This makes them incredibly drying.
Since we’ve all upped our hand washing game, I suggest trying to steer clear of sulfates if possible. I also don’t recommend using bar soaps since these tend to have a pretty high pH and can also be quite drying. When it comes to sulfates, it’s not just the skin on your hands you need to look out for. Learn more about which sulfates to avoid in facial cleansers and what to look for instead.
If you can, look for hand soaps with a creamy consistency. Good ingredients to look for are glycerin and lanolin. These will help replace some of the moisture lost through hand washing.
2. Wash Hands With Tepid Water
It can be tempting to rinse your hands with hot water when you really want them to feel clean, but trust me when I say this is unnecessary and will only cause excess dryness. Instead, use tepid water. The key here is making sure you rinse your hands well. Instead of blasting them with hot water, just take your time and be thorough.
3. Don’t Scrub Too Hard
When you’re constantly washing your hands, the last thing you want is to be aggressive with your skin. Aggressive scrubbing won’t really get you anywhere. Again, it’s better to be gentle but thorough and to really take your time when washing your hands to make sure you get every little nook and cranny — including under your nails. Once you’ve finished, resist the urge to rub your hands dry with a towel. Instead, gently pat them dry.
4. Wear Rubber Gloves When Cleaning
Another great way to protect your hands from unnecessary dryness is to wear rubber gloves while cleaning or doing dishes. Both of these activities can mean dunking your hands in and out of hot water; add in some of the harsh chemicals found in cleaning products, and you’ve got a recipe for red, raw hands.
How to Heal and Repair Dry Hands
Once you’ve taken these preventative measures to avoid over-drying your hands, here’s what you can do to start repairing dry, irritated, or cracked skin.
5. Be Really Diligent About Moisturizing
This one may seem obvious, but it really is so important to keep your hands healthy by applying moisturizer after each and every hand washing. When we’re washing our hands as often as once every hour, it’s easy to get lazy about moisturizer. But leaving them bare will lead to water evaporating from the skin, which causes the tightness and dryness that can eventually lead to cracking (not to mention redness and irritation).
Regularly moisturizing will help keep your skin’s protective moisture barrier intact. This is important because when our skin’s barrier is compromised, it develops tiny cracks that let moisture out while letting irritants and bacteria in.
If you’re staying home, keep moisturizer next to the sink to remind yourself to use it frequently. If you still need to be out and about for your job, carry hand cream with you so you can easily access it after each hand washing.
6. At Night, Try a Salve or Ointment
If your hands are really suffering, apply a thick ointment or salve at night while you sleep. Focus on occlusive ingredients—the key is creating a barrier over the skin so moisture stays in and can’t escape. This is one time when greasier is better.
If you’re having any cracking on your knuckles or anywhere else, you can also start by applying Neosporin. This will speed up the healing process and prevent infection.
Pro Tip: If you have a face cream that didn’t work out because it was too heavy or broke you out, don’t throw it away! Try using it on your hands, instead.
7. Try a Cuticle Oil
After you’ve applied ointment or salve, use an oil blend like Pro Remedy Oil on your cuticles and any other areas where you’re having irritation or cracking. This is nice for keeping the skin intact so it doesn’t open up and get exposed to possible infection.
8. Sleep Wearing Cotton Gloves
When my hands are feeling extra dry, I like to wear a pair of cotton gloves to bed. Doing this takes things to another level by creating a physical barrier that will keep moisture from escaping, forcing it into the skin. I also like doing this because it keeps thick, potentially pore-clogging hand creams off my face while I sleep.
If you’re wearing gloves to bed, you can also use a layering technique. Start by applying a regular lotion for more water-based hydration. Then, use a thick cream or salve to create a seal and lock that moisture in. Top it all off with your cuticle oil, add cotton gloves, and you’re sure to wake up with soft, smooth hands.
Consider Calling Your Derm
If you have really severe dryness, itching, or cracking, consider calling your dermatologist for the appropriate treatment (which may be a steroid cream). Severe eczema can make your skin more vulnerable to infection and should ideally be taken care of sooner rather than later. Since most of us very understandably don’t want to be making unnecessary trips to the hospital right now, it’s worth calling your derm’s office or using a service such as Teladoc to see if this is something that can be prescribed remotely, since it’s pretty straightforward.
My Favorite Hand Creams
To finish off, I thought I’d share a few recommendations of hand creams I’ve been loving lately.
For daytime, I like Lano Hand Cream Intense in ‘Rose.’ I love this one because it’s thick and moisturizing, but also dries down really fast so it doesn’t leave greasy marks all over my phone! There’s nothing worse than getting gooey hand cream everywhere.
When my hands are super dry and I want an ointment to wear under cotton gloves, I use good old Aquaphor. I also use this on my feet with socks and it really does work.
I hope you find these tips helpful! I know a lot of us are struggling with dry hands right now, but let’s keep up the thorough hand washing. Hoping you all stay healthy and safe. XX Renée
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”