Months of frequent handwashing may be having a negative effect on your hands. Using more soap, sanitiser, and detergent can cause contact dermatitis on even the healthiest skin, but for those with pre-existing skin conditions it can trigger skin damage and exacerbate symptoms. In our article below we’ll look at how to look after your hands while you keep up that vital handwashing.
Previously, soap substitutes like aqueous cream have been recommended by doctors for people with eczema because soap can dry your skin out. However, on 23rd March 2020 the British Association of Dermatologists updated their guidance. Now they recommend you should 'wash hands in line with government guidance, using soap and water. This can be difficult for people with dry and cracked skin, but we advise to follow the government guidance as much as is practical.' 
This change in guidance makes it even more important to properly care for your hands in other ways.
Top tips to prevent irritated hands
Dry your hands thoroughly
After washing your hands, pat them dry rather than rubbing them. Moisture left between your fingers can cause soreness and chapping.
Use gloves when necessary
When using cleaning products, shampooing your hair, or preparing foods that might cause irritation (like citrus fruit, garlic, or chillies) you might want to consider wearing gloves. However, excess heat and sweating can make your hands worse. Only wear non-cotton gloves for short periods to complete a certain task.
Cotton lined gloves or cotton inner gloves can help to reduce sweating and keep the inside of the gloves dry.
Use plenty of moisturiser
Frequently apply a moisture rich emollient. They are best when applied after handwashing, repeatedly throughout the day, and whenever skin feels dry.
What is an emollient?
Emollients are moisturisers that are a mixture of two liquids. A plant, fruit, or mineral oil is mixed with water. Emollients can be a lotion, cream, or ointment.
Using an emollient will not cause your soap or hand sanitiser to be less effective.
Emollients help to repair damaged skin by forming a protective barrier to lock in moisture, making skin soft and supple again. You may find it helpful to apply a generous layer of emollient right before going to bed so that it can get to work nourishing your hands overnight. A pair of clean cotton gloves can also help this process.
Which emollient should I use?
You could also try specialist Eczema and Dermatitis skincare products.
How do I apply an emollient?
If your emollient comes in a tub, removing it with your fingers may introduce infection into the product. You should consider using a spoon or similar.
If you are using a steroid cream, the British Association of Dermatologists recommends you apply this either 20 minutes before or after using an emollient.  Topical steroids should never be used as a moisturiser.
If you have severe dermatitis or suspect you have an infection, you should get advice from your GP.
If you don’t have an ongoing skin condition your pharmacist may be able to suggest a short-term solution. This may be a mild topical steroid cream like hydrocortisone cream.