The official advice is clear: wash hands thoroughly and wash them often to reduce the risk of viral spread.
But if you’re prone to eczema or psoriasis, this is not exactly welcome news. The reason hot water and soap are so effective against microbes is the same reason they’re not great for skin: soap is a detergent, it bonds with oils and allows them to be washed away, leaving the skin clean. The hotter the water, the easier the oils get loosened. Ordinary household soap also breaks down the structure that encloses viral particles, so it’s also deactivating viruses as it washes them away, an antimicrobial double-whammy!
But as well as the viral-laden grease and grime, soap is also bonding to the natural oils that form the vital structure of the top layer of skin; break that down and the skin’s barrier function is impaired, leading to dehydration, further damage and irritants entering the body and causing inflammation. The result? Dry, sore, cracked hands.
The latest advice from dermatologists states that washing with emollients washes or aqueous creams, as many eczema-sufferers do, is not sufficient against Covid-19, and that only a detergent/soap (or alcohol-based sanitiser) will be effective in killing the virus.
Unfortunately, there’s no getting round it: soap and water are necessary evils right now, followed closely by alcohol-based hand sanitisers if water isn’t accessible. And alcohol is just as bad for sensitive skin as soap for stripping oils from skin!
So how do you wash your hands if you have eczema?
Follow these steps:
- Wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds
- Lather every surface of both hands
- Use an unscented hand wash or soap
- Use warm - not too hot, not too cold - water
- Dry hands carefully but thoroughly afterwards - don’t leave them to air dry!
- Pat dry with a paper towel, rather than rub with rough cotton
- Apply an unscented, oil-based emollient balm (not a water-based cream) within three minutes of drying your hands
- Keep your emollients with you and reapply between washes throughout the day
- Apply balm last thing at night under thin cotton gloves for maximum effectiveness
If you have to use alcohol sanitiser because you can't get to running water, try Balmonds Hand Sanitiser Gel with lemongrass and tea tree. It's made with vegetable glycerin to help mitigate the drying effects of the alcohol, and without the perfumes, colours and extra ingredients some sanitisers use and which can aggravate eczema.
Balmonds Natural Shampoo & Body Wash with calendula & chamomile, £19 for 200ml
Skin Salvation balm with hemp seed and beeswax, from £7.99 for 30ml
Balmonds Hand Sanitiser Gel with lemongrass, tea tree & vegetable glycerin, £8 for 100ml