Hand Sanitizer Is Causing a Huge Spike in Hand Eczema—Here's How to Treat It
If you’re someone who keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse, car, or pocket at all times, you’re likely all too aware of just how drying using the convenient hand cleaner can be. Of course, if there’s no sink in sight, it’s better than nothing. What’s even better is finding a hand sanitizer that won’t drastically dry out your hands and cause hand eczema as a result. We enlisted a few dermatologists to share their top tips for treating (and preventing) hand eczema. Keep reading for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- Corey L. Hartman is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
- Kim Nichols is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of SkinCeuticals SkinLab by NicholsMD.
- Scott Paviol is a board-certified dermatologist.
Understand Why Hand Sanitizer is Dry in the First Place
Hand sanitizer can kill germs thanks to being made with alcohol. According to board-certified dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL, hand sanitizer is typically comprised of at least 70% isopropyl alcohol (that’s the necessary amount to kill the most stubborn germs, bacteria, and viruses), but many (if not most) tend to hove in the 90% range to be effective. While these formulas do help keep bacteria at bay, they also introduce a new issue: dehydration.
“The point of hand sanitizer is to decontaminate the hands from bacteria and other pathogens, so it must contain a potent alcohol concentration to be effective,” he explains. “[The problem is,] alcohol is one of the most drying ingredients used in skin products.”
Look for Hand Sanitizers with Non-Drying Ingredients
Now that you know why hand sanitizers are so drying in the first place, it’s time to focus your attention on the added ingredients that will help cancel out some of those drying effects. According to the board-certified dermatologist and founder of SkinCeuticals SkinLab by NicholsMD, Kim Nichols, looking for calming, soothing ingredients is the key to protecting your hands’ moisture content and preventing hand eczema from developing.
“Glycerin is a great addition to hand sanitizer because it acts as a humectant, helping our skin retain its moisture,” she explains. “Aloe vera hydrates while it soothes irritated skin as well, which makes it beneficial in any sanitizer.”
Stock Up on the Best Non-Drying Hand Sanitizers
It’s time to put that knowledge to the test! But, before you take your newfound hand sanitizer facts to the store for some firsthand searching, here are the best non-drying hand sanitizers, according to our dermatologists.
Advanced Refreshing Aloe Sanitizer
“I find that the Purell Advanced Refreshing Aloe Sanitizer is easily accessible and helps to prevent drying without sacrificing the integrity of the sanitizer itself,” explains Nichols. The formula features 70% ethyl alcohol, so it’s considered highly effective by the CDC.
Beloved for its chic appearance, colorful offering, and effective formula, TouchLand hand sanitizer is a fan-favorite among most people, including Nichols. “TouchLand Power Mist has aloe vera and lemon essential oil to help hydrate hands and provide a fresh, clean smell,” she says.
Purifying Hand Sanitizer Gel
“My favorite is LaRoche-Posay Purifying Hand Sanitizer Gel,” Hartman says, “It has a pleasant smell, delivers effective cleansing between hand washings, and leaves my hands feeling hydrated. [What’s more,] it contains glycerin and keeps hands clean and full of moisture.”
The Honest Company
Hand Sanitizer Spray
“It doubles as a moisturizer containing both glycerin and aloe vera to balance the alcohol,” Hartman says. While it only features 62% ethyl alcohol, within the CDC’s range, as they recommend above 60% ethanol and above 70% isopropanol.
Board-certified dermatologist Scott Paviol is a fan of Baby Bum’s Hand Sanitizer, which features Monoi coconut oil and aloe vera along with alcohol, to not only sanitizer hands but deeply nourish them too.
Keep Hydrating Moisturizers on Hand to Prevent Post-Sanitizer Dryness
Even when you stock your routine with more hydrating hand sanitizers, there’s still the potential for dryness thanks to the high alcohol content. Because of this, Hartman recommends frequently reapplying moisturizer—especially after sanitizing.
“Hand dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis caused by hand sanitizer should be treated with frequent and liberal use of moisturizer containing ceramides and other emollients to trap moisture in, particularly after hand washing when hands have been hydrated with water,” he explains. “The barrier is the most important aspect of preventing eczema, irritation, itching, scaling, and redness. If those symptoms occur, a topical steroid cream may be necessary to calm the symptoms and prevent fissures and infection.”
If you can’t seem to keep your dryness under control with hydrating sanitizers and frequent moisturizing, Hartman says to keep a bottle of over-the-counter cortisone cream on hand. “It should be applied to any itchy, scaly, red, or irritated areas two to three times daily followed by a thick, bland moisturizer [like Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($4.59) or CeraVe Healing Ointment ($11.59)].”
Opt for Hand-Washing Over Hand Sanitizer
Last but not least, if at all possible, you should aim to wash your hands instead of constantly squeezing hand sanitizer into them. While soaps can still be drying, they typically don’t contain as much alcohol and are considered more mild cleansing agents. Even if you opt for traditional washing, however, Paviol still recommends applying ample hydration. “Apply a moisturizing cream to your hands right away, while your skin is still moist,” he instructs. ”This helps to lock in water and rebuild your skin’s moisture barrier.”
And, when it comes to the hand cream you choose, opt for a thicker formula that will sink into the skin while creating a strong barrier against irritants. “I prefer Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula Hand Cream or CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream,” he shares, noting to reapply regularly throughout the day to help rebuild your hands’ moisture barrier.
If you can’t get to a sink, Paviol says the moisturizing routine stays the same. Only, instead of applying moisturizer while your hands are still damp with a sanitizer, he recommends letting the sanitizer dry completely before adding another product to the mix.