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Are Your Hands Dry From All That Washing?

Here’s what to do.

White gloves, Aquaphor, Vaseline, and CeraVe.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amazon.

As you’ve most certainly heard by now, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against the coronavirus is to wash your hands. Often. And thoroughly. And as you’ve probably noticed by now, washing your hands so frequently can have the unfortunate and adverse effect of drying out your skin. Ironically, if your skin dries out to the point of cracking, those cracks can give bacteria an entry point.

When you’re washing your hands this much, it’s imperative to take the additional step of keeping them moisturized. Dr. Sara Hogan, a dermatologist at UCLA Medical Center, explains that your outermost layer of skin, the stratum corneum, is composed of dead skin cells, which shield your skin from dirt and microbes and also act as a guard to retain your skin’s moisture. Frequent hand-washing can disrupt this barrier, causing your skin to lose moisture.

What’s the best way to combat this dryness? While it may seem like all moisturizers are created equal, Dr. Evan Rieder, a dermatologist at NYU Langone, explains that a hierarchy exists. “Ointments like Vaseline, Aquaphor, and things like that are really greasy but are the mother of all moisturizers and emollients because they lock everything in,” he said. He says next effective are creams, and then lotions, which are much less hydrating because they have higher water content.

But Rieder notes there’s also some measure of practicality in which moisturizer you choose. He suggests reaching for hand creams over ointments throughout the day as a midpotency option, because they hydrate without rendering your hands inoperative. Those that contain ceramides and hyaluronic acid will be most effective. Rieder likes CeraVe cream because it’s hypoallergenic, nongreasy, and blends into your skin nicely. He recommends buying a few tubes and keeping them somewhere you can apply the lotion immediately after washing your hands, such as in the bathroom or at your desk if you’re at work. (Best practice is to wash your hands, pat them dry, and then apply moisturizer right away to sort of reseal your skin.)

But those greasy ointments are your friend at bedtime—Rieder suggests one like Vaseline, which isn’t practical for daytime use but is really effective. If your hands are especially dry, as they likely are right now, Hogan recommends taking that a step further by covering your hands with cotton gloves to increase absorption.

This self-care routine may feel like more than you have the bandwidth for right now, but chances are you’re doing a fair bit of hand-wringing anyway. Slap on some hand cream and take solace in knowing your fretting can have a fringe benefit.