As we all know, the current Covid19 pandemic has seen hand sanitiser flying off the shelves over the last few weeks. Everyone, to their credit, has been continually washing their hands with soap and using sanitiser. But did you know that this takes an incredible toll on the health of your skin? This is why it’s so important to moisturise your hands.
I’ve even noticed myself that my hands have become incredibly dry and even cracked from this new regime of cleanliness. This can actually present a few problems when it comes to maintaining good hand hygiene and the health of your skin.
There are four main reasons why this can happen:
- If your hands become sore from repeated washing or sanitising you may become less likely to wash your hands as frequently. This then increases the chances of viral transmission.
- You can become more susceptible to bacterial skin infections
- Soaps and sanitisers don’t work as well if your skin is damaged
- It can increase the chance of developing an inflammatory skin condition.
All the experts agree that washing hands with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds still remains the best way to prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. It removes oils from the hands which can be the perfect place for these microbes to reside and also washes away any that may be sitting on the surface of the skin.
Of course it’s not always possible to have immediate access to soap and water. This has led to a rise in the use of hand sanitisers because of the convenience of being able to use them anywhere. It’s a huge benefit if you don’t have to dry your hands after use. It’s also more sanitary because there is no need for towelling afterwards as you do when using soap and water. Towels actually increase the possibility of re-contamination.
The only problem is using sanitisers and continual hand washing continually can be very bad for your skin health.
Let’s have a look at exactly why this is.
Why hand sanitisers are bad for your skin?
There are 2 main types of sanitisers on the market and these are;
- Alcohol based – These have to have a minimum alcohol content of at least 60% to be effective. The range among most popular brands is usually 60 -95%. The alcohols generally used are isopropanol, ethanol, n-propanol or combinations of these.
- Non-Alcohol based – These types of sanitisers typically contain Benzalkonium Chloride. There are toxicity issues, but used in small concentrations is considered safe. It appears less effective than alcohol based sanitisers when it comes to corona viruses. It is also non-flammable.
So let’s look at how the most commonly used Alcohol Based Hand Sanitisers work and how they affect your skin.
The alcohols in ABHS’s kill bacteria and viruses by denaturing and coagulating proteins they are made from. This causes their cell walls to burst and their whole cellular metabolism is disrupted. This can also be a double edged sword as well in that beneficial bacteria on the skin’s surface also suffer. This leaves it open to colonization from staphylococci and various other bad bacteria. This can be a real problem if the skin is chapped or cracked and allows these pathogens to cross over the protective skin barrier.
The skin barrier when healthy has a certain amount of permeability and the oils known as ceramides that form part of its structure are essential to maintaining good skin integrity.
The problem with using ABHS’s it that the alcohol in them has a drying effect on the skin. It deteriorates the protective barrier by breaking down the ceramides in it.This compromises the whole structural integrity of the protective skin barrier. It also has an aging effect giving the skin a thin, dry and aged look and leads to more wrinkles and flakiness.
The first signs of this are skin conditions such as Irritant Contact Dermatitis and Eczema. The high incidence of nurses and people working in the healthcare industry with this condition is testament to the effects of constant hand sanitising and ineffective moisturisation of the skin in between use.
In order to understand how moisturisers work and why it’s essential to moisturise regularly you need to understand exactly how they work. To do that you also need to understand the basic structure of the skin itself.
The skin is made up of three different layers: The Epidermis (outer layer), Dermis (middle later), Hypodermis (lower fatty layer).
Blood vessels supply moisture and nutrients to the middle layer of the skin – the Dermis. Water then moves from this layer out through the outer Epidermis layer and evaporates into the atmosphere. This constant process causes the outer layers cells to dry, crack and flake off. New cells are formed in the Dermis and replace these dead skin cells that are constantly shed from the outer epidermal layer.
Moisturising is all about keeping moisture in this outer layer and slowing this decay of skin cells that occurs from this drying out process.
If your hands are showing signs of dryness or chapping from constant washing or sanitising, then you need to take heed of these warning signs and moisturise the skin. It means that the epidermal layer is drying out. This layer needs to retain at least 10 percent water in order to remain smooth and supple and maintain the health of the skin.
If this layer dries out then as stated above you run the risk of the skin cracking and becoming sore and it can even lead to inflammatory skin conditions such as Irritant Contact Dermatitis or Eczema.
For most people dry skin is just a minor irritation but if ignored and it becomes chronic, it can become a serious medical issue and make you vulnerable to systemic infection.
Moisturisers work in one of two ways, they either trap moisture into the skin by creating a barrier to stop it escaping or they deliver moisture to the outer layer of the skin that has previously been lost.
There are a million different brands of moisturisers on the market and it can be very hard to know what kinds to choose. For this reason it is best to have some understanding of the types of ingredients moisturisers contain.
Ingredients in Moisturisers
A typical list of ingredients found in most good moisturisers would include:
So let’s look at each of these typical ingredients and what role they perform.
Moisturisers on the whole tend to contain water and are mostly oil-in-water emulsions. These are your typical skin creams and lotions and if you look at the ingredients list you’ll find water is the first ingredient (ingredients have to be listed by largest quantity first).
In order to achieve good hydration of the skin you obviously need water, however even though the skin can absorb it, it’s not very good at holding it in. This is where the emollients and occlusives come in. They help to hold the water into the skin and prevent evaporation.
Humectants are hydrophilic (water attracting) compounds that attract and bond to the water molecules around them. This means that on humid days they are able to pull some water out of the air but they mainly draw it up from the underlying Dermis layer.
Humectants are widely used in moisturising formulations because of their ability to penetrate the outer layer of the skin, draw moisture into it, and lock it in.
The only problem with them is that in drier conditions they tend to pull moisture up from the dermis layer and this can leave the skin even dryer. This is known as TEWL or Trans Epidermal Water Loss. It’s a measure of the amount of moisture lost that escapes through the different layers of the skin and out into the atmosphere. This is why humectants are often paired with occlusives which seal moisture in.
Common humectants used in skincare are Glycerin and Hyaluronic acid.
Occlusives are moisturising agents that form a protective barrier on the surface of the skin. They work by trapping water in the skin’s layers and preventing evaporation.
These types of moisturisers usually have a thick heavy consistency and can be a bit sticky. They are great at reducing TEWL (by upto about 98%) but at the same time can be messy to use as well. Some may even be a bit waxy.
These types of moisturisers come in the form of creams, lotions, gels, and ointments, and tend to be less sticky than occlusives. They are easily spread and tend to penetrate the skin rather than just sitting on top of it like occlusives do. Because they make the skin feel soft and flexible they are widely used and preferred over the use of occlusives.
The most commonly found vitamins in moisturisers tend to be Vitamin C because it is so beneficial to the health of the skin and has good anti-aging and antioxidant properties. Vitamin A because it stimulates the production of collagen helping with fine lines and wrinkles.
Vitamin E is the most commonly found vitamin in skin care though because it is a powerful antioxidant, has skin repairing properties and can fight off the effects of UV damage to the skin as well.
Suffice to say, without an effective preservative system, dangerous bacteria and fungal growth will occur within the product. Moisturisers without a preservative can be health threatening if applied to the skin and it happens to be dry or cracked. This can lead to serious skin infections.
In these unprecedented times where everyone’s health is dependent on good hygiene, we’re seeing a lot more washing and sanitizing of hands than we have ever seen before. The chemicals in the soaps and sanitisers as explained, readily strip the protective oils out and dehydrate the skin.
If you don’t want to end up with dry, chapped or cracked skin that may even lead to an inflammatory skin condition like dermatitis and eczema, then it is very important to moisturise regularly. It doesn’t take long for the outer layer of the skin – the epidermis to become damaged and start breaking down.
Remember..looking after your skin properly means that you can continue to take the precautions needed to maintain good hygiene and reduce the chances of infection.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this article and now understand everything you need to know about the importance of moisturisation.