What can excessive hand washing do to the skin on your hands and your nails?
Excessive hand washing strips the skin of its natural oils, thereby drying out the skin and cuticles. Your hands will start by feeling tight, then rough, and then red. Ultimately, they will develop cracks and fissuring. Scrubbing your nails over time can also make your cuticles rough and ragged, detaching the cuticle from the base of the nail and putting you at risk of a nail infection known as paronychia.
What about excessive hand sanitizer use?
Most hand sanitizer is 60% alcohol but can go all the way up to 95%. It works by damaging the outer structure of viruses and bacteria. However, the alcohol also removes the outer layer of oil on your skin, drying it out and ultimately causing the same problems as excessive hand washing.
Is the skin on the hands more susceptible to the effects of aging and the environment because it’s more exposed?
Yes! Hands and the neck/chest are the giveaways of someone's age unless you remember to treat them as well as you treat your face! The skin on the back of your hands is thin, has fewer oil glands than facial skin and is tasked with hard work. It is always moving, exposed, washed or even injured.
Would love some best practice tips for how to moisturize the hands: any key ingredients to look for in products? Any application tips? Any specific products you love?
In the perfect world, you would treat your hands the same way you treat your face, in fact even BETTER! I recommend an antioxidant, moisturizer and sunscreen every morning. During the day use a moisturizer after each hand wash, and reapply sunscreen particularly if you go outside. At night, wash your hands when you wash your face, towel them dry, then apply a treatment (glycolic acid or retinol/tretinoin) followed by a moisturizer. Since your hand skin has fewer oil glands, thicker moisturizers are better. One of the most popular aesthetic treatments at my Seattle practice (Modern Dermatology) for hands is IPL (intense pulsed light) to lighten sunspots. We also laser hands for texture to help fight the fine lines and use filler to hide tendons and blood vessels.
What about for super-dry and cracked hands: any ways to treat them at home?
Given the circumstances, we are all washing our hands more frequently than ever and so need to be taking particularly good care of that skin. Every time after I wash I apply the Necessaire Body Lotion blended with Doctor Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm. If my fingertips feel tacky, I blot them with a tissue. At night, I coat my hands, cuticles, and nails with straight Healing Balm and sleep in cotton gloves (cotton socks work well too) to help the skin heal and replenish its oils so the skin can face another day of frequent hand washing.
If there’s anything else related to self-care and hands you’d like to add feel free!
When you scrub your nails, focus on the nail tips and try to limit the scrubbing of the cuticle and base of the nails. If your cuticles become red and tender, you may be dealing with a bacterial or fungal infection called paronychia. If you are, you’ll want to speak with your dermatologist to discuss treatment options.
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Meet the author: Board-certified and practicing dermatologist, Dr. Heather D. Rogers, MD, is the founder of Doctor Rogers Skin Care and Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Washington. She studied at Stanford, University of Washington School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. She lectures nationally, is well published, and an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Highly respected among the skin care community, Dr. Rogers has been annually named “Top 1% of Most Honored Doctors in the US” by Castle Connolly.