If All That Washing Has Left You Chapped, Nurse Your Hands Back to Good Health

moisturizing chapped hands

Washing your hands frequently is good protection against COVID-19, but all that soap and water can sap your skin of its natural oils, leaving your hands dry and chapped. The condition is called irritant contact dermatitis. “The answer isn’t to wash less,” said Kari Martin, MD, a dermatologist at MU Health Care.

Martin recommends choosing the cleansers and moisturizers least likely to irritate your skin.

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Kari Martin, MD
Kari Martin, MD

“Hand sanitizer is effective against viruses and can be less irritating for some people,” she said. “If you’re going to do soap and water, look for products labeled as cleansers, which are less irritating to the skin than soap. Lastly, dry your hands well and apply a moisturizer right away while your skin is still damp. You don’t have to apply a moisturizer every single time after you wash, but if you are prone to dry skin or redness on your hands, do it often.”

Martin said thick moisturizers such as oils, ointments or creams are better than lotions, which contain too much water to help dry skin. The fewer the ingredients, the better. Extra fragrances or preservatives can irritate sensitive skin.

“Actually, plain old petroleum jelly that has nothing else in it is good,” Martin said. “A lot of people like coconut oil or sunflower seed oil which can also work well since they contain one ingredient.”

Another COVID-19 protection strategy can also cause skin issues. People wearing protective masks in public for long periods can develop irritation or pressure sores on the bridge of their nose or around their ears.

“I’ve seen a couple of different tips and tricks for that,” Martin said. “You can use kinesio tape that athletes would use, as a skin barrier that you would put across the bridge of your nose. You could also use a hydrocolloid dressing that is used for pressure sores or bed sores. You can get either of those at the pharmacy or online.”

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic can contribute to outbreaks of shingles and cold sores and can cause flareups of pre-existing conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and seborrhea. Martin recommended people take time to practice their stress-reliever of choice, whether that be meditation, exercise, a nature walk or venting to a friend.

If you have concerns about any skin condition, MU Health Care’s dermatologists are able to conduct most appointments through virtual care, allowing patients to stay home and see their doctor via video conference. They are also seeing patients in person for any urgent needs that are not conducive to virtual care. To schedule an appointment, call 573-882-4800 or visit muhealth.org/dermatology.

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