Increased Hand Washing Leads to Eczema & Skin Irritation

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, proper hand washing techniques have reached an unprecedented high. These efforts, issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), encourage Americans to wash their hands “often” with soap and water, counting to at least 20 seconds for each washing (the equivalent of singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). If soap is not readily available, the CDC suggests using hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content as a safe alternative. Although these guidelines are critical to minimizing the spread of the virus, increased hand washing and sanitizing should be followed with a good skin care regimen to prevent potential side effects.

“We are receiving multiple calls and Tele-dermatology appointments with patients complaining of dry, cracked, flaky, itchy, raw, painful hands. This is hand eczema and it places people at risk for skin infections,” stated Nicole F. Vélez M.D., board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pittsburgh Skin, Dermatology & Mohs Surgery. “Even in the best of times, I see an increase in hand irritation during the cold, dry winter months in Pittsburgh as we wash our hands to prevent colds and the flu and for general cleanliness. More consistent use of soap and alcohol-based sanitizers strip the skin of its natural protective and moisturizing oils. This produces dryness, irritation and hand eczema. If untreated, cracks in the skin allow for bacteria to enter which can lead to skin infection, also known as, cellulitis.”

While Dr. Vélez recommends the adherence to the CDC’s recommended guidelines, she suggests the following preventative program to combat irritation, eczema, and related skin conditions:

Use a gentle cleanser to wash hands. Dr. Vélez recommends products like Dove (Unscented) or Cerave Cleansing Bars. Immediately after washing or sanitizing, apply a moistening cream of your choosing.

For patients suspecting that they are experiencing eczema as a result of increased hand washing, Dr. Vélez recommends a Tele-health dermatology appointment to confirm the diagnosis. They may benefit from a prescription strength topical steroid. Prescriptions can be issued and delivered via mail and additional relief techniques implemented as necessary.

Dr. Nicole Vélez and staff at Pittsburgh Skin are accepting new patients for Tele-health consultations. The office accepts all major health insurance plans and is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00am until 6:00pm. Call (412) 206-2966 or visit to schedule a consultation.