This article collects methods of keeping skin moisturized and preventing dryness caused by over-washing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as academic resources that demonstrate how dry skin can lead to the presence of or infection from harmful bacteria. Techniques for hand washing and drying (including using warm water instead of hot water), proper moisturizer use (such as applying it immediately after washing), and knowing when to use sanitizer are included in the recommendations.
1. Properly Washing and Drying Skin
- Dr. Sara Hogan, a dermatologist at UCLA Health in Santa Monica, provides recommendations on properly washing skin to avoid drying it out.
- Dr. Hogan advises to use only enough soap to remove dirt but not enough to create a thick lather as the thick lather washes away natural oils and leads to dryness.
- Soap should be mild and fragrance-free to minimize inflammation.
- The water used should be warm but not hot as the higher temperature will cause dryness.
- Wash hands for at least 20 seconds and then pat the hands dry using a towel rather than a dryer.
2. Choosing and Using the Right Moisturizer for Your Skin
- Using a moisturizer will ease symptoms of dry skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
- The AAD recommends using a moisturizer immediately after washing the hands with soap for best effectiveness.
- Skin types vary and moisturizers with the right amount of active ingredients are necessary to properly hydrate individual skin.
- Active ingredients for hydrating skin could include urea, ceramides, lactic acid, or glycerol.
- Dr. Kari Martin recommends petroleum jelly, coconut oil, or sunflower oil as moisturizers that are less likely to be irritating to the skin.
- For excessively dry skin, a dermatologist should be consulted to identify an effective moisturizer. A prescription moisturizer may be needed in some cases.
3. When to use Sanitizer
- Some skin types cannot abide soap without breaking out into inflammation, according to Dr. Kari Martin.
- Dr. Martin advises that people who cannot tolerate soap should use sanitizer to clean their hands of harmful bacteria and COVID-19 instead.
- “Hand sanitizer is effective against viruses and can be less irritating for some people,” Dr. Martin shares.
- Dr. Justin Ko recommends the use of hand sanitizer after touching surfaces such as door knobs rather than a full-fledged soap washing to avoid harmful irritation from repeated soap use.
- The AAD recommends applying moisturizer immediately after the sanitizer dries to avoid dryness.
Research Supporting Dry Skin’s Contribution to a Greater Risk of Bacteria or Germs
- Certain bacteria such as R. mucosa serve to enhance the skin’s moisture barrier so it does not get dry and become vulnerable to harmful bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, according to a study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- Dry areas of the skin have a greater diversity of bacteria than moister areas of the skin, according to research published in the Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery.
- Dry portions of the skin tend to harbor phyla Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes, according to research published in Nature Reviews Microbiology. It adds that these portions of the skin had greater bacterial diversity (more types of bacteria, in other words) than either the gut or the oral cavity.
- Some types of soap cause long-lasting changes to skin’s natural pH, thus causing a reduction in the presence of fatty acids, contributing to dryness, and altering the bacterial population of the skin (opening the door to harmful bacteria), according to research published in the Archives of Dermatological Research.
- Washing damaged or dry skin is less effective at removing harmful bacteria than washing normal skin, according to research published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
- Dry skin has a naturally weaker barrier that enables bacteria to enter skin more easily, according to research published in the Current Allergy and Asthma Reports.
- Dry skin enables potential environmental allergens and bacteria to enter it more easily through its cracked surface (referred to as the “leaky skin” hypothesis), according to research published on Harvard University’s blog (sourced from peer-reviewed research in Nature).