Coronavirus - advice to help you look after your hands

Are your hands getting irritated?

Handwashing is an essential process to reduce the transmission of infection between people. This has become even more important given the current COVID-19 pandemic.  You can find out about proper handwashing technique here. 

Frequent washing however dries and irritates the skin, leading to “Irritant Contact Dermatitis”. This presents as dry, sore, itchy or red skin on the hands. This is not an allergy but an irritative effect of the soaps and detergents being used on the skin when washing.

Looking after your hands is important not only to keep you comfortable, but to keep your hands healthy and free from infection. Some small regular changes can make a big difference.

Here we provide some practical advice about how you can help to keep your hands healthy during this period. 

You can also download this advice here if you wish to print it off. 

Get a Routine

The most important step is applying a moisturiser (emollient) to the hands liberally and regularly. Ensure that you are carrying hand cream / moisturiser with you in your bag or pocket and use it each time you wash your hands. Use it also in the morning and at night. Often people have a hand cream but simply do not use it enough or frequently enough. 


Check Your Moisturiser – How greasy do you need it to be?

For most people a lotion or cream-based emollient used liberally and regularly will be sufficient to control symptoms.

If your hands continue to be very dry despite regular application of a hand cream, you could consider applying a greasier moisturiser known as an ointment. These are thicker and greasier than lotions and creams, but more intensively moisturise so are very good for people with very dry skin. There are number of varieties available over the counter to purchase.

Some people find ointments too greasy to use whilst at work, so will apply an ointment in the morning before work and in the evening – using a lighter cream after washing hands during the day. Mixing and matching like this is a good strategy.


Use of a Soap Substitute

If despite using regular moisturiser you are still getting dry, sore hands, the next step to consider would be using a soap substitute lotion to wash with. A soap substitute lotion both cleans and moisturises the skin (and does not remove the natural oils from the skin in the way soap does). These contain antiseptic agents so are washing agents rather than a moisturiser you leave on the skin. Such lotions are available over the counter.


A Handy Technique - Cotton Gloves at Night

Another handy technique is to apply a thick layer of moisturiser to the hands at night and then put on a pair of cotton gloves and wear them overnight. This helps to increase the absorption of the moisturiser to the skin.


When to see your Pharmacist or GP

Most mild-moderate cases of irritant dermatitis will settle with the techniques described. However, if your hands remain itchy, cracked, sore or red despite using the measures above, it might be that a cream or ointment to reduce inflammation (called a steroid) is needed for a short period of treatment. Your pharmacist can issue you a mild steroid cream over the counter. Higher strength steroid creams need review and prescription by your GP.

If you have used a course of steroid cream to settle inflammation, it is very important to keep using the regular moisturisation plan. This will reduce the likelihood of further flares and need for further steroid cream.

This guidance is aimed at those who are experiencing sore hands directly associated with the current government advice for increased hand washing. If you feel you are having an allergic skin reaction to a specific agent, then please consult with a health care professional for further advice.


Image used courtesy of HM Government 2020