Yes, hand sanitiser is safe, and yes, it's effective, but alcohol-based gels can really sting! So what can eczema-sufferers do about it?
It's not just healthcare workers, kitchen crew, teachers and gardeners who need to wash their hands many times during a working day, though they're likely to suffer more than most. In fact, there's a strong link between frequent hand washing and eczema flares: eczema and hand dermatitis is exceptionally high in healthcare professionals because of how often and how thoroughly they need to wash their hands, and it's only exacerbated by the irritant effects of alcohol in sanitising sprays and gels.
What’s the problem with soap & water?
Washing with soap and water is currently the most effective way of reducing the spread of viruses, so don't stop doing it!
Unfortunately, soap and water can cause all sorts of problems to those with sensitive or eczema-prone skin. Contact with hot water and soap can strip vital oils from the epidermis and leaving skin prone to drying out and cracking - which in turn can exacerbate damage and open skin up to infection.
It’s very important to keep hands clean, not least to reduce the risk of your eczema getting infected, but it’s equally important not to further damage your skin in doing so.
If you have no option but to wash your hands often, make your routine as eczema-friendly as possible!
An effective hand-washing routine for eczema sufferers
How to tread that tricky line between the urgent need to keep hands clean, without damaging sensitive skin?
- Swap the soap: you can use your favourite eczema-friendly wash instead of skin-irritating soap, so long as the wash is effective! That means washing under running water for at least 20 seconds, and doing it frequently. If you're using a regular scented soap twenty times a day, it's likely to cause more skin problems than a scent-free, SLS-free wash. People prone to eczema can use some of their prescribed emollients as washes, but you can also use a natural soap-free, unscented, foaming wash like Balmonds Natural Shampoo & Body Wash, which uses gentle plant-based detergents; the aim is to physically remove dirt and germs from the skin and wash them down the drain!
- Check your sanitiser: although washing hands with hot water and a foaming detergent wash is the most effective strategy for killing viruses, hand sanitiser can be used where no water is available, so keep a bottle on hand for when you need it. If you have a flare-up, broken skin or are sensitive to alcohol, hand sanitisers need to be approached with caution: they usually contain rapidly-drying alcohol (ethanol or isopropanol) which cause intense dehydration. You can buy alcohol-free sanitisers but they are not likely to be effective against viruses and bacteria. If you are using a hand sanitiser to kill viruses, use one with at least 60% alcohol: just make sure you moisturise afterwards.
- Balm up: use a good, non-irritant hand cream or balm every single time you wash or use hand sanitiser, to counter the effects of hot water, soap or alcohol. This is the most important point: you can wash your hands thoroughly with an effective detergent and use hand sanitiser, but you will need to carry a balm or cream with you to pile on on the moisturiser afterwards! Use the gel, give it at least five minutes to get to work on the microbes, then load up on balm; keep moisturising through the day. If you're using hand wash and hot water, then wash and pat skin dry with a fresh paper towel, then apply a rich moisturiser straightaway.
- Build good skin health: you need resilient, healthy skin to cope with the onslaught of washing, cleansers and sanitiser, so feed your hands with nourishing ingredients such as EFA-rich oils, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Keep on moisturising between hand washes and gel applications. Try slathering on the balm last thing at night and covering with thin cotton gloves for a super-charged hydration boost.
Balmonds Natural Shampoo & Body Wash with calendula and nettle, £19 for 200ml
Balmonds Skin Salvation with hemp and beeswax, from £7.99 for 30ml
Balmonds Intensive Hand Cream with hemp, sea buckthorn & chamomile, from £10.99 for 50ml