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Dealing With Dry, Red Hands Right Now? Here’s Why It’s Happening and How to Fix It

Your at-home guide to dealing with eczema and dermatitis.

The new reality we’re living in as a result of COVID-19 is presenting us with new challenges on the reg. And, given our increased handwashing and use of hand sanitizer, it’s likely your hands are starting to feel the impact from all that extra contact with soap, water and alcohol. Earlier this week, I realized my own hands had become dry and itchy with a red rash-like consistency on the skin. And it turns out, I’m not the only one this is happening to.

“In the last few weeks we have seen an increasing number of patients with dry skin and eczema on their hands from frequent hand washing, more so than regular dry hands in the winter,” Dr. Jane Wu from FCP Dermatology tells me. “One of the key strategies to preventing spread of diseases such as COVID-19 is hand washing, and it is recommended to lather and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”

Eczema, Dr. Jane explains, is caused by “an impaired skin barrier, which leads to a subsequent inflammatory response that causes dry, cracked, itchy skin. Excessive washing strips the skin of healthy fats and oils, and damages the important lipid layer in the epidermis that protects us from harsh weather and irritants.”

And if your hands are already sensitive, it’s likely your hand sanitizer is only adding to the problem. “An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an effective way to disinfect your hands when soap and water is not readily available, or in a health care setting where frequent hand washing is particularly crucial,” says Dr. Jane. “I use hand sanitizer no less than 70 times per day, before and after I see each patient, and after every patient contact. For many people, hand sanitizer is less irritating than frequent washing with soap and water. However, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be irritating and painful to those who already have dry cracked skin, or active eczema.”

However as we’re all being responsible humans practicing social distancing and therefore can’t exactly get to our dermatologist or doctor to sort this out, I asked for ways to help treat the problem at home. Here’s the advice Dr. Jane offered: “One of the most helpful strategies to help protect your skin and prevent hand eczema is to dry your hands thoroughly and moisturize immediately after each hand wash. Avoid washing with water that is too hot, and wear gloves when doing wet work such as washing dishes.” She also recommends getting a “gentle, fragrance-free emollient moisturizer [as it] is particularly helpful.” As for which ones she recommends? “As dermatologists, products we often recommend include Cerave Cream, La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume, and Bioderma Atoderm Intensive Baume. An affordable and effective strategy would be to apply Vaseline ointment at night time, and cover with cotton gloves.”

As with anything, there are cases for which the above won’t work. Dr. Jane advises that “for patients who have already developed active eczema/dermatitis, a short course of treatment with a topical steroid ointment may be needed,” adding, “if you develop a rash that does not respond to the above strategies, please consult a board-certified dermatologist.”

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