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How To Wash Your Hands Without Drying Out Your Skin

How To Wash Your Hands Without Drying Out Your Skin

One of the first hygiene habits we learn as children is how to wash our hands. It’s arguably one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep yourself safe and protected from illness, and yet, research shows up to 97% of adults wash their hands incorrectly.I That’s more than a bit concerning, considering proper handwashing can help reduce the transmission of dangerous illnesses such as the flu, as well as help minimize the risk of contracting (or spreading) potentially life-threatening respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.

Of course, cleaning your hands adequately takes a bit more effort than just rubbing some hand wash between your fingers. The temperature of the water, the type of soap used, and the length of time you lather up all play an integral role. Even if your handwashing routine is effective, using products with harsh ingredients or over-washing your hands can dehydrate the skin and lead to dry, cracked hands.

To help avoid these potential pitfalls and ensure you know the best ways to keep your hands clean, we’ve put together a guide on how to wash hands properly without drying out your skin. Keep reading for what you should know about keeping your digits clean and soft.

How Often Should I Wash My Hands?

There are no hard-and-fast rules for when you should wash your hands, though researchers generally recommend lathering up after coming into contact with anything that could carry harmful bacteria or viruses. This includes washing your hands after using the restroom, after sneezing or coughing, and after preparing food. You’ll also want to wash up after coming into contact with an animal (pet snuggles included) or handling potentially contaminated materials, such as garbage or dirty diapers.

It’s equally important to scrub your hands before certain activities, such as cooking, eating, or treating any sort of cut or wound, to avoid the spread of potentially-infectious bacteria and viruses. Those with compromised immune systems (or people who care for someone with a compromised immune system) should be especially careful to wash up frequently.

A good rule of thumb is to clean your hands anytime they look or feel dirty, or whenever you’ve touched something frequently handled by other people, such as an ATM or a railing in a public building. During times of heightened illness, such as during flu season or in the midst of a pandemic, you should wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially before touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. If you’re not sure whether or not you need to soap up, do it anyway—but be sure to follow up with proper aftercare to help avoid irritation.

What Kind of Soap Should I Use?

You may assume that antibacterial soap is more effective at killing pathogens than regular soap, but that’s a common misconception: Research shows that regular hand wash works just as well as antibacterial varieties.II No matter what type of soap you use, though, frequent handwashing can dry out the skin and lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as cracking, peeling, or scaling. To help combat this, reach for gentle liquid cleansers with hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin or botanical oils. We recommend our hydrating Liquid Hand Soap, which is formulated with gentle coconut-derived cleansers, plus aloe vera and vitamin E to thoroughly cleanse and moisturize the skin. It’s available in two stunning scents: grapefruit, for a bright, citrusy aroma and coriander, for a cleaner, more herbaceous fragrance.

How Long Should I Wash My Hands For?

Currently, research suggests scrubbing for a minimum of 20 seconds to ensure the removal of any dirt, debris, bacteria, or viruses that may be on your skin.III To keep track easily, you can hum the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself all the way through two times—the classic birthday jingle is approximately ten seconds long, so two rounds lasts about 20 seconds.

How Do I Wash My Hands Properly?

Knowing how long to wash hands for and the actual technique you use are equally important. Expert guidelines on how to wash hands properly (from the CDC) are as follows:

First, run your hands under clean, warm or cool water to thoroughly wet the skin.

Next, apply a pump of liquid hand soap to your palm and rub your hands together to create a lather. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, making sure to clean in between your fingers, under your nails, and on the backs of your hands.

Lastly, rinse your hands under clean, warm or cool water thoroughly to remove all soap and residue. You can either dry your hands with a clean towel or allow them to air dry.

How Do I Keep My Hands From Drying Out?

If you’re following expert advice, you’re going to be washing your hands a lot. Even if you’re avoiding ultra-hot water and harsh antibacterial soaps, your hands might still get dry. Help keep them hydrated by applying a moisturizing hand cream after soaping up, like Richly Hydrating Scented Hand Cream. This fragrant lotion (available in grapefruit, coriander, and lavender scents) features rich shea butter and soothing vitamin E to lock in moisture and keep hands feeling soft and well-hydrated. It’s lightweight and absorbs quickly, making it a great pick for everyday use.

For those with dry, cracked hands, or for people who live in cold, arid climates (which can dehydrate the skin), we recommend reaching for a rich hydrating hand lotion, such as Ultimate Strength Hand Salve. This soothing formula contains avocado oil and squalane to nourish and soothe extremely dry hands. It also helps draw moisture from the air to form a "glove-like" protective barrier and shield sensitive skin from the elements. Use it after washing your hands or whenever your skin could use a little extra TLC.

Finally, if you’re dealing with severely dry skin or are experiencing painful symptoms like cracking, peeling, and scaling, we recommend the heavy-duty Intensive Treatment & Moisturizer for Dry or Callused Areas. This thick, ointment-like treatment features an impressive medley of hydrating ingredients, including shea butter, cocoa butter, avocado oil, and glycerin. Use it as often as you need to soothe and repair ultra-dry, irritated hands.

Kiehl’s Expert Tip: For even deeper hydration, apply a thick layer of your chosen heavy-duty hand cream right before bed and slide on a pair of breathable cotton gloves. This trick helps lock in moisture and keeps the hand cream from rubbing off.

Next: The Best Body Care Routine For Soft Skin

I. "Study Shows Most People Are Spreading Dangerous Bacteria Around the Kitchen and Don’t Even Realize It." United States Department of Agriculture. 28 Jun 2018.

II. "Antibacterial Soap? You Can Skip It, Use Plain Soap and Water." United States Food and Drug Administration. 16 May 2019.

III. "When and How to Wash Your Hands." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 17 Aug 2020.

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