Whether you’ve adopted the habit of singing “Happy Birthday” twice or have chosen a different song a la the memes that have overtaken social media, cold and flu season, coupled with the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has put handwashing and personal hygiene in the spotlight. And, when you consider the fact that a 2018 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study found that people fail to wash their hands “properly” 97 percent of the time, we're all in need of a refresher course.
How To Wash Your Hands
So, what is the proper way to wash your hands? Good ol’ fashion soap and water is the best way to kill germs and prevent the spread of bacteria. Below are five steps required for an effective cleanse:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water
- Apply soap and lather
- Rub your hands together vigorously for 20 seconds — remembering to scrub the fronts and backs of the hands, in between the fingers, and under the fingernails
- Rinse thoroughly in clean, running water
- Dry with a clean towel or shake dry
While it is not a substitute for washing with soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can get the job done in a pinch. Be sure the formula contains at least 60 percent alcohol and apply the product to the palm of one hand (check the label for proper dosage). For best results, rub hands together — covering all the surface area you would while washing your hands — until they are dry.
When to Wash Your Hands
Now that you know how to wash, how often should you be sudsing up? At a minimum, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands in the following situations:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before and after eating
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After touching garbage
Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to wash your hands any time you enter or exit a space, use public transportation, or get home from commuting. Wash your hands frequently throughout the work day, and, upon arriving home, you should always wash up and, if possible, change into clean clothes.
Unless you have just finished a proper hand wash, DO NOT touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. When in doubt, follow the golden rule of dermatology and refrain from touching any part of your face. It’ll keep you from getting sick and will likely save you a pimple, too.
How to Care For Over-Washed Hands
If your daily handwashing quota has reached the dozens, you’re likely dealing with dry, irritated skin. Dry skin on your hands is not unlike dry skin on any other part of your body — it becomes scaly, red, tight, itchy, and dehydrated when the stratum corneum (i.e. the outer layer of the skin) is damaged. Washing your hands regularly with bacteria-fighting soaps and alcohol-based hand sanitizers draws moisture out of the skin and breaks down that protective barrier.
But, all is not lost. There are some simple steps you can take to soften up the hands, fingernails, and cuticles that have dried out from over washing.
1. Wash With Lukewarm Water
Much like Goldilocks, the water you use to wash your hands should not be too hot or too cold. Cool or lukewarm water will still kill germs and bacteria, while not being as harsh on the skin.
2. Use Gentle Soaps
There is a reason the CDC is advocating for increased handwashing to help prevent illness and avoid the spread of coronavirus — it works. Washing your hands does not, however, require abrasive soaps. In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that 19 ingredients found in so-called “antibacterial” soaps were no more effective than their non-antibacterial counterparts, which means there is no reason to not reach for a milder alternative.
3. Pat Dry
While you should be scrubbing your soapy hands together during the washing process, you don’t need to rub them dry. Allow your hands to air dry or lightly pat them with a clean towel to avoid further damage to the skin. Another tip: skip hand dryers, as the hot air can have a similarly irritating effect.
4. Moisturize Immediately After Washing
You’ve probably seen personal care brands selling ‘wet skin’ lotions, but it’s more than just a marketing tactic. Applying hydrating oils and creams to damp skin will help prevent additional water loss and lock in moisture, and the same is true of creaming your hands after washing.
But for those who would rather deal with reptilian skin than greasy digits, there are hand creams that deliver all the hydrating benefits you need without rendering them useless oil slicks. Our favorites for everyday use include:
- Aveda Hand Relief: The botanical-infused formula feels rich but absorbs instantly for smoother, softer skin.
- Deborah Lippmann Rich Girl Hand Cream: In addition to enjoying the skin-smoothing benefits of shea butter, avocado, and jojoba oil, this lightweight formula boasts a broad-spectrum SPF 25.
- Fountain of Truth Youth In Hand Cream: The brand's triple emulsion technology allows the cream's emollient-rich blend of shea butter, honey, jojoba, and coconut and macadamia oils to repair the skin barrier without residue.
- Supergoop Handscreen SPF 40: Sea buckthorn fruit extract, meadowfoam seed oil, and argan oil are just a few of the hydrating ingredients in this fast-absorbing lotion that includes a reef-safe, broad-spectrum SPF 40.
5. Layer Up At Night
It’s understandable that you don’t want to deal with greasy hands during the day, but all bets are off after hours. Skin naturally regenerates overnight, and slathering your hands (and body!) with nourishing ingredients can help to repair some of the damage inflicted by overwashing during the day. Our go-tos include creams with rich textures and multi-purpose balms that yield smoother skin by morning:
- Ahava Mineral Hand Cream: Aloe vera soothes, while allantoin and witch hazel smooth and heal dry, cracked skin in this creamy formula.
- Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream: As the name implies, the natural balm (packed with olive oil, honey, beeswax, and more) is a multitasking wonder that treats chapped cuticles, dry patches, and irritated skin with gentle ease. We like to layer it on top of our hand cream for added hydration.
- Kiehl's Ultimate Strength Hand Salve: This thick, emollient formula repairs and conditions hands thanks to nourishing avocado oil, softening sesame seed oil, and moisturizing olive oil wax.
- Skinfix Eczema Hand Repair Cream: Formulated specifically for eczema-prone skin, soothing colloidal oatmeal, beeswax, and shea butter restore the damaged skin barrier and reduce redness, itching, and stinging.
- Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream: A favorite for dry, rough skin on the face, elbows, hands, and feet, this cult-favorite features calendula, chamomile, beeswax, lanolin, and more for smoother, hydrated skin.
If you take one thing from this article, let it be this: you should be washing your hands all throughout the day, everyday with soap and water to help prevent the spread of germs. But the practice doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your skin. Washing with gentle formulas in lukewarm water and patting (not rubbing!) dry will help to protect your skin barrier, while applying nourishing hand creams can restore moisture to your dry, dull digits.
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
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