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Your Healthy Family: How to keep frequent hand washing from taking a toll on your skin

Posted: 8:05 AM, Feb 28, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-28 10:05:08-05

CLEVELAND, OHIO — It’s cold and flu season and the best way to protect yourself from getting sick is to wash your hands – a lot.

But all of that scrubbing can take a toll on our already-dry winter skin.

According to Melissa Piliang, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, we can keep hands germ-free and soft during colder months, but it takes some diligence.

“Use a moisturizing soap-free cleanser, rinse well, use cool water – not hot water – use cool water, and then apply a moisturizer as soon as you wash your hands,” she said.

In addition to our frequent hand-washing, Dr. Piliang said cold weather habits, such as cranking up the heat, can contribute to our dry winter skin woes.

To counteract the dryness of the air, she advises running a humidifier in the bedroom at night, which can help moisten the air, and your skin, while you sleep.

And while a nice, hot shower might seem like a great way to start the day, Dr. Piliang warns us that soaking in hot water can wash away all of our skin’s healthy oils, leaving us dry and uncomfortable.

She recommends applying a thick, cream moisturizer when you get out of the shower, before you completely dry off, which can help seal in the moisture.

It’s also helpful to turn down the water temperature just before you get in.

“What I like to recommend is turning your shower on, very hot, before you get in; let it get all nice and hot and steamy in there, then make it cooler for when you get in,” said Dr. Piliang. “It will still feel warm – but you won’t have that very hot water on your skin that washes away all those good oils.”

Don’t forget about your lips, which are often exposed to the cold and can also get irritated.

“Our lips are exposed to elements more than any other part of our body,” said Dr. Piliang. “When we go out in the cold, we bundle up, wear gloves, and hats and scarves, but our lips are still out there. Our lip skin is very sensitive; it doesn’t have the same protection as the rest of our skin does, so chapped lips are really common in the winter.”

She said it’s best to avoid the urge to lick dry, chapped lips. This just puts saliva on them, which can be irritating. Saliva is designed to digest food, and has irritating enzymes that can make chapped lips feel even worse.

Instead, Dr. Piliang recommends looking for products that are clear ointments, and applying them at bedtime so they can moisturize lips during sleep.