Washing your hands several times a day is a necessary (and highly encouraged) task. Every time you handle food, use the restroom, or touch something that harbors a lot of germs, you should wash your hands thoroughly.
The drawback to good hygiene? Frequent handwashing can make your hands feel dry and irritated, especially in sensitive skin. Seeing as you likely use your hands a lot, you probably want them to feel soft, hydrated, and smooth.
Fortunately, you can avoid or minimize dry, irritated skin by putting healthy handwashing tips for sensitive skin into practice.
Handwashing Tips for Sensitive Skin
First, why does hand soap dry out your skin? Hand soap is designed to remove germs from our hands. When your hands get dirty, the bacteria and germs stick to the hands' natural oils. Thankfully, oil-based soap lifts the germs. Rinsing your hands gets rid of the germs, but it also washes away the natural oils in your skin, leaving your hands feeling dry.
Though you can't go without hand soap, there are some ways to achieve squeaky clean hands without the dryness and irritation.
1. Stick to Lukewarm Water
The temperature of your water does not affect how clean your hands get, but it does affect how dry they can become.
There is a myth that hotter water temperatures are more effective at killing germs and bacteria than cold or room-temperature water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that not only does water temperature have no effect on microbial removal, but warmer water is also more likely to cause skin irritation.
For that reason, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using lukewarm water instead of hot water when washing your hands.
2. Rub Your Hands Together Gently Instead of Scrubbing
If you've ever seen a doctor do the famous "surgeon scrub," you know it's a vigorous process—maybe even involving a scrubbing brush. For everyday handwashing, you don't need to use any special tools to scrub your hands. Doing so would likely cause even more irritation to sensitive skin. Think of a baby's delicate skin: you wouldn't treat it with rough scrubbing, so give your own skin the same care.
The World Health Organization has a helpful guide on how to wash your hands properly. Notice how there is no hard scrubbing involved. If you have extra sensitive hands, you can follow the motions slowly and gently.
Make sure that each part of your hands, including the fingernails, are thoroughly cleansed. Think of it like a lathered-up hand massage. Just be sure to take your time to get the job done effectively.
3. Use a Gentle Hand Soap
Some soaps are harsher than others and can strip off your skin's natural oils. This is partially due to the presence of harsh surfactants, which are effective cleansers but associated with skin dryness.
A prime example of this is the family of sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate. Healthline recommends avoiding hand soaps that contain sulfates as well as fragrances, alcohols, and dyes. Instead, opt for ones with gentle hydrators like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, plant oils, and lanolin.
You may also wonder whether hand soap or antibacterial soap is more effective. According to the FDA, you can skip the antibacterial soap and stick to regular hand soap and water. Their findings suggest that antibacterial soap offers no more protection from illnesses than plain soap and water.
4. Apply Hand Cream While Your Hands Are Still Damp
The key to locking in moisture is applying lotion while skin is still wet, as recommended by the AAD. This is true of skin all over the body, but if your hands are prone to sensitivity and severe dryness, it's especially important to use a hand cream after washing them.
The AAD also confirms that moisturizing after handwashing does not negate your cleaning efforts. To prevent irritation for sensitive skin, they recommend using a hand cream or ointment that is free of fragrance and dyes.
5. Use a Moisturizing Hand Sanitizer When Needed
If you have sensitive skin, should you use hand sanitizer instead of soap and water? No. Washing your hands with soap and water is more effective than using a hand sanitizer, according to the CDC. However, if hand soap isn't available, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is the next best thing.
While alcohol helps get rid of germs, it also dries out the skin. With repeated hand sanitizer use, hands can feel dry, irritated, and uncomfortable.
When you need to sanitize your hands, opt for a hand sanitizer with moisturizing ingredients. It should still have at least 60 percent alcohol, but it can also contain moisturizing agents like glycerin, squalane oil, vitamin E, coconut oil, or aloe vera. Once the hand sanitizer fully dries, you can apply a hand cream to restore moisture.
Keeping Sensitive Hands Clean and Moisturized
If you've ever washed your face and noticed your skin immediately feels dry, tight, and itchy, then you're likely familiar with the discomfort that comes with frequent handwashing. For people with sensitive skin, those already uncomfortable symptoms are exacerbated during cold and flu season. These hand-washing tips for sensitive skin can help alleviate dryness and irritation from washing your hands throughout the day.
The takeaway? Be gentle with your sensitive hands, choose your hand hygiene products wisely, and always follow up with a moisturizing hand cream. Do this and your skin will guard you all year long.