How to Fix Dry, Itchy Hands From Hand Sanitizer

“Wash your hands” was the first piece of practical advice many of us heard about preventing the spread of COVID-19. And, quite frankly, it was a good tip! Now, as the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease, local guidelines around masks and social distancing will relax significantly. While it’s a huge relief to be finished with some COVID precautions, it’s always a good idea to keep your hands clean. Let’s face it, even in a corona-free world, it’s a good idea to lather up regularly—or, if you can’t get to a sink, to use hand sanitizer. All that washing and sanitizing, however, can lead to dry, itchy hands. If that’s been the case for you, check out these smart tips for keeping your skin moisturized and comfortable when you’re washing frequently.

Hand Sanitizer vs. Washing Hands: What’s Better?

First things first: When you have the opportunity to wash your hands with soap and water, it’s a better practice than using sanitizer. Proper handwashing will kill any germs on your hands, while hand sanitizer is only effective at removing some of them. Washing your hands is also more effective at removing agents like dirt, food particles, and grease. Be sure to wash for at least twenty seconds (try singing “Happy Birthday to You” twice through), and use any water temperature you find comfortable. Washing in scalding hot water can dry out your skin, and it’s not necessary for good hygiene. 

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If you need to clean your hands and can’t get to a sink, hand sanitizer is the next best choice. The CDC recommends using sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol, which you can find at your local supermarket or drugstore or wherever beauty products are sold. Hand sanitizing wipes (not baby wipes or surface cleaning wipes) containing at least 60% alcohol are also effective. Thankfully, the sanitizer shortage we experienced at the height of the pandemic appears to be over, so stocking up is easy now. 

Side Effects of Hand Sanitizer

Sanitizer isn’t perfect, but it is pretty … handy. (Sorry!) It’s easy to take with you everywhere, and it kills COVID-19. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not contribute to antibiotic resistance. And if you’re into fragrances, you can find everything from lemon and basil to blueberry and watermelon. So when you’re out and about and need clean hands, use a generous dollop of gel. It should be enough to cover the palms and backs of your hands and all your fingers. Try to let it evaporate completely before you use your hands to eat or touch your face. 

Safely Using Hand Sanitizer

While sanitizer can be a lifesaver, it does have a few unwanted side effects. As with any product, you should be sure to read the label before you purchase a new bottle to make sure it’s safe and effective. It’s important that you avoid any product made with methanol alcohol, as it’s considered toxic. Furthermore, if you have sensitive skin or are intolerant of strong smells, you may want to avoid essential oil hand sanitizer. The strong scents could irritate your skin or give you a headache, so stick to the fragrance-free variety. 

Even the safest and mildest sanitizers on the market can have an unwanted side effect: dry and itchy hands! If you’re washing or sanitizing all the time, chances are your hands are looking and feeling a little parched. That’s because alcohol is a highly drying ingredient. But don’t worry—taking better care of your hands is easy … and may give you an excuse to go shopping for new goodies!

Take Good Care of Your Dry, Itchy Hands

You shouldn’t stop washing or sanitizing your hands (or wash less frequently) if they get dry and itchy. Even when you’re uncomfortable, it’s important to practice good hygiene. Instead, wash smarter. Here’s a few smart tips for making your cleaning routine a little gentler. 

A person using a moisturizer to prevent dry itchy hands.
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  • Use lukewarm water (or cold, if you prefer) when you wash at the sink. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no evidence that you need to use hot water to get your hands clean.
  • Don’t wash for longer than you need to. Wet your hands, scrub and lather, rinse thoroughly, and you’re done. The less time you spend with wet hands, the less dry your skin will be. 
  • Invest in cleaning products with hydrating ingredients. You can find moisturizing hand sanitizers and soaps in most stores. Look for ingredients like aloe, glycerin, squalane, vitamin E, or coconut oil. 
  • Find hand lotion or body butter that you love. You’ll be more motivated to apply moisturizer if you enjoy its fragrance and texture. Treat yourself to a full-size tube for home and a travel-size one for your bag or car, and apply it after you’ve washed or sanitized. 
  • Make sure you dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel after you’ve washed them. If you’re using sanitizer, let it dry completely before you put anything else on them, like lotion. 
  • Apply lotion to your hands each night before you go to bed. This gives your skin plenty of time to soak up all that moisture. Use a generous amount, since you won’t need to use your hands for hours. 
  • If the condition of your skin doesn’t improve after making these changes, see a dermatologist. There may be more to the story than dry skin, like allergic contact dermatitis. It’s best to let a professional check it out!

As the coronavirus pandemic winds down, it’s tempting to abandon all the practices we’ve associated with it. While I hope we never need to remain six feet apart again, I do think our improved hygiene routines are worth hanging onto for the long haul. Keeping our hands clean during peak flu season months, for example, can help us to avoid catching and transmitting the flu virus. So let’s stick to being extra conscientious of washing and sanitizing our hands. With a few easy tweaks to your routine and product regimen, you can stay clean, healthy, and comfortable.