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How to rescue dry hands caused by frequent hand washing, sanitising

Here are seven tips to prevent hands that are dry, rough, scaly and cracking

Even if we are not washing our hands with soap multiple times a day, we are reaching for alcohol-based hand sanitisers to disinfect our hands as part of the new norm.

This becomes more frequent if you are a germaphobe or you work in an environment that requires strict sanitation and hygiene standards, such as a hospital or childcare centre.

While such practices are a great way to stay healthy and keep loved ones around us safe, it can be damaging to the skin barrier, resulting in hands that are dry, rough, scaly and possibly cracking.

Suds created when using soap wash away dirt, bacteria and germs, and along with it the skin's natural oils that keep it soft and healthy. Washing hands with hot water and using anti-bacterial soap can make matters worse, leading to painful, itchy cracks. Here are seven tips to the rescue.

Use a soap-free cleanser

Traditional soap tends to be made with harsh surfactants (SLS/SLES) and has a pH level too alkaline for our skin.

Soap-free cleansers, on the other hand, have a gentler formulation that is as effective in combating harmful pathogens (20-second rule still applies).

Avoid common irritants

Ingredients such as fragrance and denatured alcohol can irritate the skin further.

So after washing your hands, we recommend patting it dry with a towel (not rubbing, as the friction can cause mechanical damage) and finishing with a sensitive skin-friendly hand cream that is pH balanced and contains moisturising and nourishing ingredients including glycerin and paraffin.

Seal it with petroleum jelly

Repeated bouts of washing and sanitising can create painful cracks on the skin, especially if you have not been taking care of your hands.

The solution is to plug these fissures with petroleum jelly, which is inert and hypoallergenic, before putting on moisturising gloves to prevent it from getting everywhere.

Glove up after hand cream

These accessories are great to help the hand cream deeply penetrate the skin without getting it all over your appliances and surfaces. Use a pair before heading to bed for an intensive overnight treatment.

Pamper with hand mask

If you want something more immediate and fuss-free, use a hand mask. Think of these as facial sheet masks but for the hands. Opt for those that contain skin-loving ingredients like paraffin, shea butter, argan oil, niacinamide and ceramide to deeply nourish battered hands.

Protect your cuticles too

They are a delicate area that can get dry and cause painful peeling. Peeling the chapped cuticles will result only in a bloody and excruciating scene right out of the Natalie Portman film Black Swan.

Prevent that from happening by using nail cuticle oil to nourish and soften the skin and strengthen the cuticles and nails.

Wear gloves as much as possible

To reduce any negative effects from washing and sanitising our hands, we should first limit our exposure to water and harsh chemicals that can further exacerbate the problem.

So, as much as possible, wear waterproof gloves when you're cleaning and disinfecting the space around you. This includes any hands-on activities or household chores, such as doing the dishes or gardening.

This article was first published in SPH Magazines.