In line with today’s epidemiological situation caused by the Covid-19 virus, hand washing has become a routine that is performed more often than the traditional habit of “before and after meals”.
To more frequent hand washing we should add the use of 70% alcohol spray, as well as other agents which act on viruses that many people have been using for months. This behaviour is necessary to protect oneself from getting an infection, but it certainly leads to skin changes, and frequent hand washing can be associated with hand eczema.
Redness, rough skin, superficial scabs, fissures and blisters are symptoms that can be encountered as a consequence of this routine. They can be divided into two categories:
- Skin irritation caused by the use of soaps and antibacterial agents that are drying out the skin
- Contact allergic reaction.
Longer and more frequent exposure of the skin to the water affects the superficial horny layer of the skin of the hand, which receives excess water and swells. The separation of corneal cells disrupts the skin’s lipid barrier and increases its permeability to chemicals.
Frequent wearing of rubber gloves has a similar effect. In medicine, the emphasis is on wearing gloves in case when we want the applied medicine to penetrate deeper and in larger quantities. Now, a similar thing is happening with the daily wearing of plastic gloves, except that now the chemical substances with which we come into contact on a daily basis are resorbed. All substances penetrate the skin more easily and in lager quantities, consequently causing the skin inflammation.
Frequent hand washing and hand eczema
Soaps, detergents and gels used for personal hygiene are formulated in a way not to irritate the skin of the general population. If they are used for a long period of time and very often, they remove the lipid layers, leading to the rupture of connections between keratinocytes and their membranes, leading to the development of dermatitis or eczema.
In the period before the appearance of Covid-19 infection, hand eczema caused by hygiene habits was very common among medical workers and cooks. Now it represents a global problem.
What can we do to reduce the possibility of developing hand allergies?
Firstly, we can reduce the conditions that make it easier to dry out the skin of the hand.
After washing our hands, there is no need to apply alcohol spray or disinfectant solution, and we certainly should not do that before washing our hands.
Once our hands are washed, we should never wear gloves on damp skin. We have to dry the skin well and only then put on the gloves.
When choosing soaps, we should not opt for antibacterial soaps that dry out the skin. A much better option are colourless and odourless syndets.
During hand washing, the water should be warm but not hot.
Once our hands are washed, we should dry them, but not by rubbing hands on towels, but by lightly tapping and collecting water from them.
It is mandatory to apply a cream after each hand wash. We recommended the use of greasy creams or pure Vaseline (not containing lanolin and preservatives), coconut or jojoba oil. Hand lotions are absorbed faster but they irritate the skin more and compensate less for the lipid component.
If the redness becomes very pronounced with a feeling of pain and the appearance of moisture, it is necessary to consult a dermatologist. Bacteria can easily develop on damaged skin, so you should react in a timely manner.
Schwanitz HJ, et al. Skin care management: educational aspects. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health. 2003;76:374–381.
Khosrowpour Z, Ahmad Nasrollahi S, Ayatollahi A, Samadi A, Firooz A: Effects of four soaps on skin trans-epidermal water loss and erythema index. J Cosmet Dermatol.
Effects of four soaps on skin trans-epidermal water loss and erythema index. Khosrowpour Z, Ahmad Nasrollahi S, Ayatollahi A, Samadi A, Firooz A. J Cosmet Dermatol.