We’ve all heard it a million times. The #1 thing you can do to prevent catching a cold is to wash your hands. But what happens when all the hand-washing causes other problems like extreme dryness?
In wintertime as temperatures drop, the relative humidity in the air also drops causing moisture to evaporate more quickly on your skin and leading to dry skin. Now there’s dry skin, and there’s really dry skin. The other day a patient splayed her hands out in front of her, and asked, “What do I do?” Her hands were cracked and bloodied, her nails were peeling and brittle, and she was clearly frustrated. She told me she washes her hands several times a day so she won’t get sick. She’s doing the right thing, sort of.
It’s true that frequent hand-washing reduces the spread of colds and flu, so I don’t want you to stop. Here’s what you need to do instead:
1. Moisturize every time you wash your hands. When you wash your hands with soap, especially harsh antibacterial soap, you strip natural oils off your skin, leaving it vulnerable to dryness and cracking. The only way to return moisture to the skin is to apply moisturizer. Look for hand moisturizers that contain dimethicone or silicone which helps sooth and moisturize skin and form a protective barrier that won’t leave your skin greasy, such as Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair Hand Creme. Once you find a moisturizer you like, buy several and place them everywhere you might use them, such as on your desk, in your car, next to your bathroom and kitchen sinks, on your nightstand. Every time you wash your hands, apply the moisturizer. Yes, every time. Massage it into your hands and nails. If you do this consistently, you should notice a significant improvement within a week or two.
2. Use alcohol hand sanitizers more frequently. Though it may seem strange, water-less hand alcohol sanitizers are actually much less drying than hand-washing because they don’t strip the oils off your skin. Dry skin is an oil problem, not a water problem, so you want to preserve those protective oils on your skin to keep it moisturized. Make sure you use hand sanitizer that contains at least 62% alcohol to kill germs. Also, make sure you rub it vigorously into your hands, including between your fingers and along your nails, until the gel has completely dried. Though effective in killing germs related to the common cold, hand alcohol sanitizers are not as effective in fighting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria infections as once thought. According to a news release today, the FDA is going to start cracking down on companies who issue false claims regarding hand sanitizers’ ability to kill MRSA bacteria.
Hopefully, by following this routine, you’ll end up with both soft hands and a soft nose.
Photo credit: primaverapvr