November 12, 2023

What Can I Do About Dry Hands From Overwashing?

Try turning the heat down on the water and opting for a moisturizing soap

applying lotion after washing hands

One of the best ways to protect yourself from diseases of all kinds is to wash your hands — a lot. But all that scrubbing can make the skin on your hands dry, cracked and sore.

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Dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, breaks down why your hands might get dry, what happens when you wash them and what you can do to keep your hands soft and healthy.

Why do my hands get dry after washing them?

If you feel your hands getting irritated after washing, you’re not alone.Dry hands after washing can be a common issue, and it’s usually caused by the removal of natural oils and moisture from your skin during the washing process.

Here are some factors that contribute to dry hands after washing:

  1. Soap: Most soaps and hand washes are designed to remove dirt, bacteria and oils from your skin. While this is important for cleanliness, it can also strip your skin of its natural oils, leaving it dry and less supple. Certain soaps or hand washes are harsher than others. For example, some contain harsh chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate that can be particularly drying to your skin.
  2. Water temperature: Using very hot water can be hard on your skin. Hot water can cause your skin to lose moisture more rapidly, leading to dryness. This is because the lipid barrier — also known as the moisture barrier and located on the outermost layer of your skin — melts away under hot water. (This doesn’t happen with cold and lukewarm water.)
  3. Overwashing: Is it true that you can wash your hands too much? Frequent handwashing, especially if done without moisturizing afterward, can lead to dryness. Healthcare workers and people in certain professions, for example, may be more prone to this issue.
  4. Skin conditions: Your hands may also be more prone to drying out due to a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema. If you have a history of skin conditions, take note if you’re experiencing flare ups after washing your hands with certain soaps or at hotter temperatures. You should also consider using specially prescribed lotions or extra gentle remedies after handwashing to avoid making your condition worse.

Is hand sanitizer less harsh on your hands?

You may have heard that opting for hand sanitizer may be a less irritating way to keep your hands clean. But that’s not exactly the case. While using hand sanitizer doesn’t involve hot water or soap, it’s not a proper swap-out for handwashing. Plus, hand sanitizer can also cause irritation on your skin.

To minimize the potential drawbacks of hand sanitizer and protect your skin:

  • Moisturize your hands after hand sanitizer has dried.
  • Limit the use of hand sanitizer to situations where soap and water aren’t available.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water when they’re visibly dirty.

Treating and preventing dry hands from washing

If you struggle with dry skin, it can be frustrating every time you go to the sink to wash your hands. But there are ways to avoid irritated skin and find relief from dryness.

Remember: Washing your hands consistently and thoroughly protects you against germs and bacteria, so here are a couple ways to make it less of a hassle:

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1. Avoid hot water

You don’t have to switch to completely cold water, but scalding hot water during a handwash isn’t doing you any favors either. Try to turn down the temperature while washing your hands and even showering to avoid your hands feeling dry or irritated. “Hot water can wash away healthy skin oils,” Dr Piliang reiterates.

Remember to do this when you’re doing other hygiene-related chores like washing the dishes. Lukewarm as opposed to hot water can be just the difference your skin needs to avoid dryness.

2. Opt for a moisturizing soap

Certain soaps have a moisturizing agent in them that can be gentler on your skin and prevent dryness. “Your best bet is to use a moisturizing soap and rinse well afterwards,” Dr. Piliang advises.

When shopping around for gentle soap, try looking for moisturizing ingredients like:

3. Moisturize after washing

Using a moisturizer after washing is one of the best ways to keep your hands feeling smooth and nourished. After washing, apply a lotion to help seal in the moisture,” Dr. Piliang recommends. Opt for a lotion or hand cream that’s fragrance-free to avoid any further irritation on your skin.

4. Use a balm treatment

If you’re prone to very dry skin, you can skip the lotion and go straight to a good, thick moisturizer. You want to look for a cream, balm or ointment — something that’s thick and a little bit hard to spread that will provide more moisture to your skin.

5. Gently dry your hands

You can also avoid dry hands after washing by the way you dry them. Your first instinct after washing is probably to dry your hands until not even a drop of water is left. But it’s actually better to leave your hands a bit damp after drying. If you can get away with air drying your hands sometimes, even better! Also, don’t rub, just dab, so you’re not irritating your skin.

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6. Consider using gloves for cleaning

Finally, make sure you’re avoiding any unnecessary interactions with your hands. “Especially if you have really dry hands, it’s wise to consider wearing gloves when you do dishes or cleaning,” suggests Dr. Piliang.

“Also, running a humidifier in the bedroom at night can help moisten the air and your skin while you sleep,” she adds. This way, you’re keeping your hands healthy throughout the day, so that hopefully, they’re less sensitive to handwashing.

The bottom line

Washing your hands is an important way to stay healthy. Consistent handwashing can help kill bacteria and prevent spreadable diseases. But if you’re frustrated with your hands getting dry after each wash, try turning down the temperature, swapping out your soap and consistently reaching for a good moisturizer.

If you feel like you’re experiencing extreme dryness after handwashing that’s leading to cracking or pain, be sure to talk to a dermatologist or healthcare provider.

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