Hand washing during COVID-19

Hand eczema in the time of COVID-19

Dry, cracked and itchy hands have become a reality for many of us during the COVID-19 pandemic. The frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, application of harsh soaps and incorrect hand washing techniques can lead to skin irritation and may lead to the onset of hand eczema.

What is hand eczema?

The term hand eczema refers to an inflammatory condition involving the skin of our hands and is characterised by dry, red and itchy skin. Hand eczema is a multifactorial condition that can easily be overlooked or ignored during its early phases. The first signs are dryness and itchiness. If left untreated the skin progressively becomes more dry, cracked and inflamed.

Why is it important to know about hand eczema?

Healthy skin functions as a barrier that protects us from our external environment. Eczematous skin represents a compromised skin barrier and potentially allows easy access of micro-organisms, irritants and allergens from our external environment into our skin.

When microorganisms enter our skin it can lead to infection. Irritants that come into contact with our skin can serve as an ongoing trigger for inflammation which prevents repair of the skin barrier and ultimately predisposes us to the development of allergies. Being aware of potential triggers and modifying our hand care routine can be key in preventing the onset of hand eczema and its sequelae.

How can hand eczema be prevented during COVID-19?

Washing our hands is imperative in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The American Academy of Dermatology has highlighted important and practical tips for keeping our skin healthy and hydrated while continuing regular hand washing:

  1. Use lukewarm water – Wash your hands with soap and lukewarm water for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Moisturise immediately after washing your hands – Pat hands dry, then rub a pea-sized amount of moisturiser over your hands.
  3. Use moisturisers with mineral oil or petrolatum – Look for ointments and creams (the ones you squeeze out of a tube) as these are more effective than products that you pump out of a bottle.
  4. Choose fragrance- and dye-free moisturisers – These are less irritating for your skin.
  5. When soap and water are not available, use hand sanitiser – The CDC recommends using hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. Since these can be drying, apply moisturiser after your hands dry.
  6. Continue washing your hands, even if they feel dry – Washing your hands can remove harmful bacteria and viruses.

Practicing a good hand care routine is key to ensuring that our skin and bodies stay healthy. If you are concerned that you may be suffering from hand eczema that is not responding to the regular use of emollients, please contact your dermatologist.