Between masks, lack of sunlight, and stress breakouts, the pandemic has been tough on skin.

My body’s most severe reaction to the new COVID-19 safety protocols has been the dry skin and eczema caused by regular handwashing and use of hand sanitizer.

If you have eczema, you might have noticed that the skin on your hands has become dry, red, itchy, and even cracked since the start of the pandemic.

This is because washing your hands more often can disrupt your skin barrier function, leading to chronic dry skin and sometimes hand eczema.

If you’re struggling with dry hands or hand eczema, you can do a few things to minimize the discomfort and look after your skin.

Research, including a 2020 study, has shown that hand eczema is on the rise as a result of COVID-19 hygiene protocols involving frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer.

More people are experiencing extreme dryness and irritation on their hands. A 2020 study shows the effects are most extreme among essential workers, but it’s also affecting the general population.

A 2020 research survey suggested that school reopening protocols like regular handwashing have increased the risk of children developing irritant contact dermatitis, a major cause of eczema in adulthood.

The drying effects of handwashing are coupled with the impact of stress. Stress can have a drying effect on your skin even without the use of harsh soaps and chemicals.

For people who already suffer from hand eczema, hygiene protocols can make symptoms much worse, according to a 2020 research review. Regular handwashing can irritate existing eczema, leading to severe pain and sometimes bleeding.

According to experts, you can do a few things to help reduce the effects of regular handwashing and sanitizer on your skin.

To avoid developing dry skin and eczema or to stop your symptoms from getting worse, you can take a look at the products you’re using. This includes soaps, moisturizers, and gloves.

You can also consider advice from a dermatologist for helping prevent hand dryness and eczema.

When you’re washing your hands, take care not to irritate your skin more.

Try these steps:

  1. Use lukewarm water rather than hot water to wash your hands.
  2. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Rinse your hands gently after washing.
  4. Carefully pat your hands dry rather than rubbing them vigorously.
  5. Use a paper towel instead of an air dryer whenever possible.
  6. Apply moisturizer while your hands are still damp.
  7. Reapply moisturizer regularly to keep your hands hydrated.

Not all soaps act the same way.

To minimize the impact of regular handwashing on your skin, try these tips:

  • Whenever possible, use a soap-free cleanser over harsh soaps.
  • If using soap, opt for fragrance-free and preservative-free products.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of handwashing when your hands aren’t visibly dirty.

It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of using moisturizer regularly.

To help support your skin, use an ointment-based hand moisturizer after every wash and every use of hand sanitizer.

Keep these tips in mind, too:

  • Thick, greasy creams or oils are better than lotions (think petroleum jelly).
  • Avoid using water-based moisturizer.
  • Choose fragrance-free, dye-free, and hypoallergenic products whenever possible to avoid irritating your skin further.
  • Apply moisturizer when your hands are still damp after washing.
  • Apply moisturizer when your hands are dry after using hand sanitizer.
  • Moisturize your hands after work and apply a thick layer before bed every night.
  • If you’re wearing gloves, apply moisturizer as soon as you take them off.

Choosing the best natural moisturizer

Moisturizing regularly and reapplying after every wash can make a big difference when it comes to skin dryness and eczema symptoms.

In a 2018 article, researchers suggested using a natural, fragrance-free oil to moisturize your hands.

Moisturizing regularly and reapplying after every wash can make a big difference when it comes to skin dryness and eczema symptoms.

In a 2018 article, researchers suggested using a natural, fragrance-free oil to moisturize your hands. Some options suggested include:

  • Jojoba oil. Oils like jojoba repair your skin barrier and have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Coconut oil. Coconut oil has been shown to decrease the severity of eczema in children when applied twice daily.
  • Shea butter. Shea butter has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • German chamomile oil. This oil alleviated symptoms of atopic dermatitis in animal studies.
  • Borage oil. Borage oil improves skin barrier function.

Emollients or occlusives are also recommended by dermatologists for treating hand eczema. Your skin will thank you for adding moisturizer into your skin care routine.

Wearing gloves can help protect your hands. However, if they’re not used properly, they can actually make your hand eczema worse.

Here’s the best advice for wearing gloves:

  • Always wear gloves for any household cleaning or disinfecting.
  • If you’re wearing gloves for other purposes, be sure to change them frequently.
  • Make sure your hands are completely dry before putting on gloves.
  • Avoid latex gloves, as these can aggravate eczema.
  • If you have to wear gloves, opt for nitrile or neoprene gloves.

If you already suffer from hand eczema, there are steps you can take to avoid making your symptoms worse.

For instance, using hand sanitizer can be very irritating and painful on damaged skin. In this case, gentle handwashing with a soap-free cleanser is the best option. Avoid using hand sanitizer unless no other options are available.

There are also some expert recommendations for people who already suffer from hand eczema to prevent your symptoms from getting worse. These include:

  • Avoid washing your hands with soap after using alcohol-based sanitizers.
  • Always use hand moisturizer immediately after washing or sanitizing. Carry it with you whenever you leave the house.
  • Use gentle cleansers and hand sanitizers free from fragrance and unnecessary antiseptic ingredients.
  • Don’t wear jewelry because it can trap soap and detergent and irritate your skin.
  • Use anti-inflammatory topical medication when needed, following advice from a specialist.
  • Stress can make symptoms worse. Try to practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques.
  • Seek expert advice if your symptoms get more severe.

Despite the irritation and pain caused by hand eczema, it’s important that you carry on practicing proper hygiene during the pandemic.

Frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer can help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. This is a major step in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Once you get in the rhythm, these handwashing tips help keep you and others safe while easing eczema at the same time.

Elizabeth Harris is a writer and editor with a focus on plants, people, and our interactions with the natural world. She’s been happy to call many places home and has traveled across the world, collecting recipes and regional remedies. She now splits her time between the United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary, writing, cooking, and eating. Learn more on her website.