Q: I have developed dry skin from COVID-19 because I have to wash my hands so often. Hand sanitizers are even worse in drying out my skin and, anyway, I’m afraid to use them because I’ve heard they’re toxic. What should I do?
A: Unquestionably, both soap and skin cleansers, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitizers are drying, because, in the process of washing away dirt and killing microorganisms, they also extract some of the natural oils from our skin that hold in our moisture. They inevitably remove some of lipids that are responsible for the skin’s permeability barrier.
People endowed with sensitive skin are more susceptible to the drying effects of soaps and sanitizers, because their skin barrier is weaker. I’m guessing that you may be one of the many among us who have “sensitive” skin.
Dry skin from COVID-19 is becoming a common problem.
Sensitive skin or not, we all must protect ourselves from the virus that causes COVID-19. So what can we do?
- Select a soap or cleanser that is not too harsh. For specific advice on products, sign up to receive our free handout: Taking Good Care of Your Skin.
- You can also keep the water on the cool side. Hot water extracts more of the skin’s natural oils, but it isn’t necessary for good skin hygiene.
- Hand sanitizers, ideally those containing 70% ethyl alcohol, are a convenient option when soap and water are not available. Yet unfortunately, some of the products that became available during the COVID crisis contain toxic contaminants. While most of the toxic products originated in Mexico, they are marketed under a variety of trademarks and may appear to be of US origin. To make sure that the one you are using is not one of these dangerous products, be sure to check it against the list of toxic sanitizers on the FDA’s website.
- Whether you use a hand sanitizer or soap and water, the best practice to avoid developing dry skin and rashes is to apply an emollient or barrier repair formulation. Be aware that many products claiming to be moisturizers are in fact frequently damaging to the skin barrier. In contrast, EpiCeram®, a prescription product, is an effective barrier repair agent. If you are prone to hand eczema, it may be your best way to avoid a flareup during the COVID pandemic. For non-prescription products, we would suggest a bland emollient, like the widely available Eucerin® or Aquaphor® creams, or a Korean barrier repair product, Atopalm MLE cream, which is available online.
EpiCeram® was developed from research conduced by the Elias laboratory. Dr. Peter Elias is a co-inventor of the product, which is licensed by the University of California, and marketed by Primus Pharmaceuticals, Inc.