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How to Wash Your Hands without Drying Them Out

Tips on keeping your skin healthy while washing your hands often—because that’s what you need to keep doing.

By Lisa A. Beach

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With the focus on health and hygiene, thanks to COVID-19, you’re probably washing your hands more than ever to help stop the spread of the virus. But the result of all that extra scrubbing—and all that alcohol from hand sanitizers—means your skin feels like a rough paper towel.

Dry skin is more than just a nuisance. It can flake, itch, crack and even bleed, making you more susceptible to germs and other bacteria, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). So how can you keep your skin clean without drying it out? And, once the threat of the coronavirus passes, should you still worry about excessive handwashing? Here, an AAD spokesperson answers these questions and more.

Gently clean.

Go back to the basics. “Wash with soap and lukewarm water for at least 20 seconds—making sure to get between your fingers and around your nails,” says board-certified dermatologist Carrie L. Kovarik, M.D., a spokesperson for the AAD. Avoid hot water—it removes your natural skin oils more quickly, which can cause or amplify the dryness.

An associate professor of dermatology at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Kovarik suggests using a fragrance-free, dye-free, moisturizing bar soap, which can be less irritating to the skin.

When it comes to using hand sanitizer, think of it as a last resort.

“Washing with soap and water is preferred, but hand sanitizer can be used if soap and water are not available,” Kovarik says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to effectively kill germs.

Pat dry.

When using soap, gently blot (rather than rub) your skin until damp. When using hand sanitizer, rub it on your hands until dry.

Don’t forget to moisturize.

After washing, slather on a moisturizing ointment, cream or lotion. This helps lock in the moisture on your skin. Choose ointments and creams over lotions; they’re more effective and less irritating, Kovarik notes. Also, look for ingredients such as olive oil, jojoba oil or shea butter—all of which help soothe dry skin. 

Need additional dry-skin relief? Kovarik suggests dabbing petroleum jelly on your hands before bed.

Make handwashing a forever habit.

“Continuing good handwashing practices when the pandemic is over will not only help reduce the number of respiratory virus illnesses like coronavirus, but can also prevent diarrheal infections and some skin and eye infections,” Kovarik says.

Natural moisturizing ingredients to look for in soap:

  • Olive Oil
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Jojoba
  • Glycerin
  • Hyaluronic Acid


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