Dossier: COVID-19

Coronavirus and skin care: how to keep your hands soft and smooth

To protect against the coronavirus, we’re told to wash our hands thoroughly as often as possible. But how often is too often? And how can we look after our hands to prevent dry and sore skin?

Text: Isabelle Fretz; photo: iStock

The Federal Council recommends that you wash your hands before preparing food, before eating, before giving children food, after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing, when you get home, after going to the toilet, after you’ve put out the rubbish, to name just a few examples. However, there’s also a downside to washing your hands frequently with soap: soap-free surfactants disturb the structure of the skin’s top layer and lipids are released from the skin which removes moisture. The skin loses its natural protection and becomes dry and cracked. Florian Diaz Pesantes, dermatologist in Winterthur Neuwiesen, has five tips on how to look after your hands.  

Wash with cold or warm water?

Water temperature has no influence on the reduction of microorganisms. You should therefore choose a temperature that feels good. It’s much more important to wash your hands for longer (at least 20 seconds), lather the soap properly and dry your hands thoroughly. Generally speaking, warm water feels nicer, but it puts more strain on the skin than cold water. So it’s important to use skin care products afterwards.

Hand care: watch out for surfactants, perfumes and colourants

Surfactants, perfumes, preservatives, moisturising agents and care products can all irritate the skin. In some cases this can lead to skin irritation or acute hand eczema with redness, scaling and itching. If you’re starting to notice these effects, it’s high time that you looked after your hands, because otherwise you may suffer from hard skin and painful cracking later on. To prevent irritation it’s best to use a slightly acidic (pH neutral) soap. Washing products with a pH value of between 5 and 5.5 are best for most people, because they match the natural pH levels of the skin.  

The right skin care after washing your hands

It takes weeks for cracks in the skin to heal. And unfortunately there are no tricks to speed up this process. However, you can prevent cracks by protecting and looking after your skin. You should use products that feel good, but check whether you are allergic to any of the ingredients. Many people like hand creams that contain urea because it binds water into the skin. Dexpanthenol is very effective for soothing cracked skin.

Kill germs with soap or disinfectant?

If possible, you should wash your hands using soap instead of a disinfectant. Disinfectants usually contain ethanol, propanol or isopropanol, which disturb the structure of the skin’s top layer and dry it out.  

Hand protection products for healthy skin

To protect your hands between washes, you might want to try using an additional hand protection product. These protect your skin by making it harder for irritating substances to penetrate the top skin layer and are ideal if you’re planning to do gardening or housework.