Dry Skin From Washing Your Hands So Much? Here’s What to Do

WAshing hands

A skincare expert shares helpful tips

If your hands are flaky, tight, and dry now, just wait — there’s only more handwashing to come amid this “new normal.” So our Wake-Up Call newsletter (subscribe here!) turned to Olay skincare specialist Frauke Neuser for some advice on coping with our (newly) dry hands as we keep washing as often as possible. She taught us about the science of skin, explained why our hands dry out so easily in the first place — and shared some helpful tips to retain moisture right now.

Wake-Up Call: Let’s talk about the science of skin! Could you tell us more about what it’s made up of?

Frauke Neuser: It’s that critical interface between us and the world, right? It keeps the good stuff in and keeps the bad stuff out. And by bad stuff, I mean anything from microbes, bacteria, viruses, to UV radiation, pollution, dirt, and harmful chemicals. It’s fantastic that nature created something that fulfills all these functions.

When you look at what contributes to the barrier function, there are the outermost layers of skin cells that are already dead, which is why your skin can handle the impact of certain things. And then there are other layers, think of it as a brick and mortar structure. Those beds of skin cells are bricks, and then there is the mortar, kind of an oil-based substance, that holds them together and makes it waterproof.

And if you look at your hand, it’s actually slightly different from a lot of other places on your body. The palms of your hands, eventually they have no hair whatsoever, so you’re not really producing any oil in those. You produce sweat. So your hands are more prone to drying out and less able to hold moisture, way before all of the handwashing started.

So with all of these layers, why do our hands get so dry from washing them constantly?

Every time you wash your skin, even just water starts to remove some of the oil on the surface and get into these layers. But this happens especially as you start using detergents and soap. They get into these upper layers of the skin and wash some of that mortar away.

Once that’s removed, it can easily also remove other components of your skin. Basically, you’re drawing out your skin from this constant washing. Skin is always supposed to lose a little bit of moisture and be able to bounce back. But now, with all this washing, you’re getting to a place where it’s losing too much moisture, and those ten to 20 outer layers themselves start to turn dry and flaky, and you lose that nice structure that they had. That’s why you can visibly see the flaking and the cracks.

Is there a specific type of soap that’s better or worse for your hands?

Right now, finding something gentle is probably not the first thing on people’s minds as they’re trying to wash off the virus. So stick to the CDC guidelines, but finding a gentler soap can make a difference on your hands. Actually, most of the liquid cleansers actually use more gentle detergents. Traditional bar soap tends to remove more oils and dry your skin more out.

And one thing to note along with your soap choice: Don’t use boiling hot water because that removes the lipids. Use lukewarm water instead.

What type of moisturizing routine do you recommend?

Once you’ve washed, dry your hands, and even when they are maybe still a little bit apply a moisturizer.

What kind of moisturizer you use will really depend on your circumstances and how often you work with your hands. Because maybe during the day as you’re still having to do lots of things and you don’t want a really greasy cream. But that greasy hand cream might be great at night, with some gloves, when you don’t have to touch anything. During the day you’re looking more for something a little lighter, that absorbs well and doesn’t leave a heavy on your skin.

In principle, every time you wash your hands you should repeat the moistening process.

Are there any environmental things people can do like drink more water or like use a humidifier, to help? And what ingredients should people look for in their moisturizers?

You can’t make up for moisturizing your skin by drinking 20 glasses of water. But at the same time, so you know, so yes, you have to do, make sure you stay well hydrated. We always say if you are, if you’re getting thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. So make sure you drink enough water during the day and a humidifier can really be helpful in your bedroom

Ingredients that are helpful don’t just moisturize but build the barrier we talked about. Vitamin B3 has been shown in many clinical studies to do just that. It makes your skin more resilient. So when you moisturize, it’s going to actually be able to hold onto that water other than continuously losing it throughout the day. Hyaluronic acid, or glycerin, are others. Those are all molecules that sit on the surface of your skin or penetrate and then hold onto the moisture and are good ingredients to look for.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This originally appeared on Medium.com