Coronavirus means handwashing, lots of it. But it doesn’t have to mean dry skin

Click to play video: 'What to look for in a hand cream'
What to look for in a hand cream
Dry, itchy, flaky skin is common during winter months, and skin conditions can be even worse for people with eczema and psoriasis – Feb 15, 2020

Frequent handwashing is one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of COVID-19, according to Canadian public health officials and the World Health Organization.

But cold, dry winter air is enough to cause cracked skin, and an increase in washing and sanitizing hands can make it even worse.

So how can you continue to engage in important handwashing practices while preventing skin irritation and redness?

According to Dr. Julia Carroll, a dermatologist at Toronto’s Compass Dermatology and lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, using a moisturizing soap and hand cream directly after can give you relief.

READ MORE: Here’s why frequent handwashing is recommended in preventing spread of COVID-19

“Handwashing and then moisturizing is similar to what we do with our hair; we wash our hair with shampoo and then we condition,” Carroll said.

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“We need to get into that mentality.” 

How handwashing affects skin

Our skin naturally produces oils and waxes that act as a protectant to our hands, Carroll said. Increased handwashing and use of sanitizer strips those oils away and makes skin more vulnerable.

When you have water on your hands, the air pulls out that water on your skin and it goes into the air, leaving your hands dry.

“The air is trying to pull water from any source that it can, and the skin is a great source of water,” Carroll said.

Click to play video: 'Step-by-step guide to washing your hands'
Step-by-step guide to washing your hands

For those who suffer from dry hands or preexisting skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, over washing can make them worse.

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Sabrina Landry, a barista at a coffee shop in Toronto, said she has to wash her hands and sanitize surfaces at work more frequently due to coronavirus.

Her cafe has implemented important health measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak, including increased cleaning and sanitizing.

“I swear my hands have never been so dry in my life,” Landry said. “My hands hurt so much.”

Photo courtesy of Chanakya Ramdev
Photo courtesy of Chanakya Ramdev.

Waterloo-based entrepreneur Chanakya Ramdev has also experienced dry skin, as he has been washing his hands more often to protect himself and others from COVID-19.

The increased handwashing and sanitizing has caused the skin under a ring Ramdev wears to peel and crack.

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Treating dry skin

For people like Landry and Ramdev whose skin is very dry, rough and irritated, thicker, oil-based products are best, Carroll said.

Carroll said it is better to use hand cream rather than lotion because cream is oil-based, whereas lotion is water-based and will cause more dryness.

READ MORE: Handwashing vs. hand sanitizer — Which one is better at killing flu virus?

When buying a hand cream, she added, avoid products with retinol as an ingredient. This is usually found in anti-aging serums and it is a form of a chemical exfoliation.

“It takes off some top layers of the skin,” she explained.

“It’s great for anti-aging, but when we’re trying to keep the barrier intact and the skin less irritated, retinol would be counterproductive for that.”

READ MORE: The best (and worst) hand creams for dry, cracked hands

Instead, look for a hand cream with “a combination of emollient and occlusive” ingredients, Carroll previously told Global News. “These act as a physical barrier to prevent water loss.”
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These agents also prevent external factors (like water from handwashing) from drying your skin and they lock in the moisture your skin already has.

Lanolin, mineral oil and silicone are examples of occlusives, and emollients are ingredients like plant oils, mineral oils and shea and cocoa butter.

Humectants, like glycerin, honey and aloe vera, are also helpful for keeping your skin moisturized.

READ MORE: Handwashing — 6 steps to kill the germs on your hands

When Ramdev was grocery shopping last week, he cut his hands several times while carrying boxes because his skin was so dry from washing.

Carroll said it is important to prevent dryness because cracked skin can lead to a skin infection.

“The best defence is an offence and just to stay ahead of it,” she said.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

With files from Global News’ Meghan Collie

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