Cracked Skin From Washing Your Hands Too Much? Here’s A Dermatologist’s Tips

August 17, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in a few dermatology concerns, including dry hands, skin damage due to mask-wearing and temporary stress-induced hair loss.

Stay home. Practice physical distancing. Wash your hands. These are some of the simple measures we can use to help limit the spread of COVID-19 as healthcare workers head to the front lines every day.

We already know that hand washing is important to help prevent COVID-19 spread (hint: it’s all about the fatty acids in regular old hand soap). There’s even a #20SecondChallenge to help you find something other than Happy Birthday to sing as you scrub your fingers.

But with all of this rigorous hand washing, your hands may now be red, dry or itchy.

“Water, and in some cases, the soap as well, are irritants to the skin,” explains Dr. Roxana Daneshjou, a researcher and dermatology resident at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “You’re stripping away the oils on your skin that are the natural barrier, but you’re also exposing your skin to things that are irritants to it.”

Scaling back on handwashing during a pandemic isn’t the answer though ー taking precautionary measures is.

Daneshjou’s tip here is to apply an emollient to your skin, better known as a moisturizer.

“It’s important to use something that works well. A moisturizer that comes in a jar ー like a thick cream ー is preferred to something in a pump bottle, which is more runny and not as moisturizing […] something that is unscented because fragrances are actually often irritating to the skin as well,” says Daneshjou. “And if it is tolerated, something greasy, like white petrolatum or Vaseline, works even better, even if you just put that on at night or immediately after you shower. I think moisturizing on a regular basis is the most important thing you can do right now to protect your hands.”

In addition to moisturizing, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your hands with lukewarm water, and to avoid over-drying your hands.

While there are precautions everyone can take to avoid dry hands, what about healthcare workers who are wearing medical devices for extended periods of time?

A recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that 97% (526/542) of front line Chinese healthcare workers had skin damage due to infection-prevention measures, such as N95 masks and goggles. The most common symptoms were dryness and desquamation (skin peeling) affecting areas such as the bridge of the nose, hands, cheeks and forehead.

“Usually, the most important thing is to make sure [that] you have the right fit on your mask, to make sure that it is not too tight,” says Daneshjou. “But I recognize that during this time, that may not be ideal because people are going to use whatever personal protective equipment (PPE) they can get.”

In situations such as these, Daneshjou recommends that when healthcare workers finish their shifts, they should put on greasy white petrolatum, like Vaseline, to protect their skin. But Daneshjou points out that “the only issue with putting that on before going to work is that you don’t want to put on anything that is going to affect the efficacy of the seal of the mask.”

Beyond reports of skin damage in front line healthcare workers, there is currently little evidence to suggest that that skin findings are associated with COVID-19.

“While there can be cutaneous findings in patients with COVID-19, it has not been seen that there is some skin finding specifically associated with [it],” says Daneshjou. “It seems, for now, the skin is not a major player in this disease.”

Instead, Daneshjou says that the skin findings reported in COVID-19 patients so far may be a side-effect of medications or could be viral exanthems: non-specific skin findings seen in various viral illnesses, such as colds.

While skin findings have yet to conclusively emerge, we may see more occurrences of telogen effluvium (diffuse hair loss) as the pandemic subsides.

Generally, around 85-90% of the hairs on our head are actively growing, while the remainder are resting.

“What can happen during very stressful events ー [such as] during illness, after a surgery, pregnancy, or an emotional stressor, such as the emotional stress of living through a pandemic ー [this] actually pushes more of your hairs into the resting phase. The hairs live in a resting phase for three to four months, before they’re pushed out by new hairs that grow,” explains Daneshjou. “So what can happen is that people may notice in three or four months after a very stressful event in their life, they have this diffuse hair loss. Their hair is just falling out.”

In this type of hair loss, Daneshjou says that the hair generally grows back, and that it simply takes time. But be sure to visit your dermatologist if you’re having a more severe case of hair loss, dry hands or skin damage during COVID-19 ー though it may have to be an e-visit for now.

Article Source: forbes.com