The Dark Side of All That Hand Washing


There is a simple law of physics that says every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Likewise, every action a person takes produces some sort of consequence. With that in mind, consider hand washing. It has a dark side.

We have been hearing about the importance of hand washing as a means of preventing the spread of disease for the better part of several decades. However, the hand washing message has taken on new meaning in the era of coronavirus. We have never heard so much about washing our hands as we have in recent weeks.

Despite how effective hand washing is at slowing down the spread of germs, constantly washing your hands really isn’t good for them. No part of the human body was designed to be washed as frequently as experts say we should be doing it. The evidence is found in hands that are dry, cracked, and sometimes bleeding.

Hand Washing Can Harm

The point here is not to encourage people to stop washing their hands. Rather, it is to simply address the fact that hand washing too frequently can cause harm. Remember that in order to wash properly, you have to use warm water and soap.

The problem is that warm water and soap wash away the oil that provides a protective layer for the skin. Aggressive scrubbing can make matters worse by actually removing a portion of the top layer of skin. The end result can be hands that are in miserable shape.

Hand sanitizer isn’t much better in this regard. Again, remember that experts recommend using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content in order to kill germs. That much alcohol can do as much harm as soap and water in terms of eliminating skin oil.

Undoing the Damage

So, is there anything that can be done to combat dry, cracked, and chafed skin as we navigate coronavirus? Experts say there is. They say that hand moisturizers are the answer.

One of the primary purposes of the oil found on the skin is to trap moisture. Wash away that oil and you have a problem. Yet you can overcome the problem by using a skin moisturizer that essentially does the same thing as natural oil. It traps moisture so that the skin doesn’t dry out as quickly.

A general rule of thumb suggests avoiding moisturizers with alcohol. They can do just as much harm as alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Instead, water-based moisturizers that are thick and creamy are the best bet. How they are applied also matters.

How and When to Moisturize

According to the American Academy of dermatology, it’s best to moisturize hands immediately after washing. Moisturizer should be applied while the hands are still slightly damp so as to immediately trap moisture in place. But that doesn’t square with drying your hands thoroughly, does it?

Apparently, the right way to do things is to pat your hands dry and then apply moisturizer right away. If you used hand sanitizer instead of washing though, the experts say it is best to make sure the sanitizing solution has completely dried before moisturizing. This gives plenty of time for the alcohol to evaporate.

Salt Lake City-based Alsco, a nationwide uniform and linen provider that also deals in washroom supplies, recommends employers consider providing moisturizer alongside hand soap. While not mandatory, providing moisturizer might encourage employees to use it to protect their hands after washing.

So now you know. Hand washing does have a dark side. Fortunately, it can be overcome with a good moisturizer and a few seconds of your time.