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Add moisturizer after washing and sanitizing your hands to help protect your skin

The washing is automatic by now. It seems our hands are constantly doused in alcohol or soap. That’s good, of course, when it comes to preventing getting sick, but too much can cause the skin to break down.

Carrie Kovarik, a professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology’s Ad Hoc Task Force on COVID-19, is spreading the word about adding one more step to the hand washing routine. Kovarik is urging people to moisturize their hands to protect their skin.

“It’s very important to keep our hands clean right now,” Kovarik said. “Everyone is using soap and alcohol-based sanitizers. It’s important to use those, but it’s also important to do that at the right time.”

The CDC recommends washing hands before and after eating or preparing food, after caring for someone who is sick, using the restroom, changing a diaper and more.

“Some people, especially in the healthcare industry where I am, are using hand sanitizers every time they walk by one,” Kovarik said.

That might be overkill. Kovarik said it is important to strike a balance.

Washing, when possible, is better than using hand sanitizer, according to Kovarik. 

“Wash for 20 seconds to get under your nails and tips of your fingers,” she said. 

Pat your hands dry rather than rubbing with a towel.

“Leave some water on and then use a moisturizer that has mineral oil or petrolatum to trap moisture in the hands,” Kovarik said. 

Use moisturizer that is fragrance- and dye-free, even if you are not allergic, since a depleted skin barrier can be more sensitive. Kovarik also advises using moisturizer that comes in a tube. It is thicker than one from a pump bottle, but doesn’t require repeatedly putting your hand in a jar. 

“Some people don’t like the sticky feel of mineral oil or petrolatum-based moisturizers, but they do moisturize better,” Kovarik said. “If you get to the point where your hands are breaking down a little bit, I always like to put a thick coat of petrolatum on before I go to bed and put some socks or cotton gloves on. In the morning, they will feel a lot better.”

Parents can instill the habit in kids by keeping moisturizer by the sink and by using it themselves.

“If you do it, they’ll do it,” Kovarik said. “If you don’t, they won’t either.”

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