A Beauty Expert's Guide To Find A Hydrating Hand Wash For Younger Skin
I'm often reminded of something holistic esthetician Lesley Thornton told me about face washes: "And you can do so much damage with a cleanser. What good is retinol if your barrier is compromised?" I think it's incredible advice, and something I very strongly agree with: Cleansers are the unsung heroes of our skin care routines.
And it doesn't just apply to the face—any cleanser you use can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to inflammation.
Many body washes, shampoos, and hand soaps are notoriously stripping of the skin. I think it's important to evaluate your cleansing arsenal from top to bottom to ensure you're being gentle on your skin, no matter where that skin happens to be placed.
And I think it's most true with hands. We wash our hands multiple times a day—arguably, it's the part of our beauty routine we do the most. And yet, such little attention is placed on the product category.
Hand soaps are an afterthought, and they really shouldn't be.
How stripping cleansers can age the skin
A poorly formulated, drying hand cleanser can do a lot of damage.
Your skin barrier is complex and multifunctional. It's made up of the acid mantle (which refers to the slightly acidic nature of the skin1), moisture barrier, skin microbiome, and even has its own immune system.
These all work together to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. When working properly, it can neutralize radical damage, reduce inflammation in the body, and retain moisture.
The skin is resilient but can, unfortunately, be influenced by a lot of external stressors, such as irritating skin care products.
One of the worst things you can do is to use harsh cleansers, such as sulfates. These dissolve your skin's natural lipids, potentially alter the microbiome, and throw off the skin's pH.
These changes can lead to dryness, flakes, fine lines, dark spots, crepey skin, and other signs of aging.
What to look for in a hand wash
Now that I've spent some time explaining what a bad hand wash does to the skin, let's talk about what a good hand wash actually looks like. There are a few key elements to look for when shopping for a hand cleanser, and each element ladders up to one simple goal: Protect and nurture the skin barrier.
We generally avoid telling folks to use sulfates—they're not "toxic," but they are incredibly harsh on the skin. Rather, we opt for gentle plant-derived surfactants that aren't as stripping. Take it a step further and look for those that are made from readily renewable resources and are biodegradable. A few we like: sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium methyl oleoyl taurate.
Hydrating humectants and emollients
Washes should always come infused with hydrating ingredients to help restore moisture while cleansing. These can buffer the effects of cleaning agents, as well as nurture the skin while using:
- Aloe vera
- Botanical oils like moringa seed oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil
- Oat extracts
These free-radical-fighting wonders help keep skin healthy, avoid oxidative stress, and protect you from external aggressors. Antioxidants are worthy additions to basically any product or formula, hand washes included:
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin E
- Fruit and plant extracts
The skin microbiome is a crucial part of our skin function—and so using ingredients that nurture it should be part of any skin care routine:
- Prebiotics: Prebiotics are essentially nutrients that the organisms on your skin feed on, which ultimately support a thriving ecosystem. There are a lot to pick from, but we like options derived from sea veggies, minerals, plant-derived sugars, and oat extracts.
- Postbiotics: These are the beneficial byproducts of organisms living on the skin—and, unfortunately, due to modern living, we have lost many of these postbiotics. Recent advances in biotech skin care mean that we can identify specific byproducts, replicate them, and then infuse them into topical skin care to replant on the skin. For postbiotics look for ferments, like lactobacillus ferment.
If this seems like a tall order, just know that mindbodygreen's hand wash contains each one of these. It's a sophisticated formula that uses biodegradable, plant-derived surfactants; hydrators like aloe vera, moringa seed oil, and red algae; antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10; and a special biotech pre- and postbiotic combo to support the barrier. The pH of the formula also falls in the acidic range, from 5 to 6, which is ideal for the skin's acid mantle.
Just like it's important to find a high-quality face cleanser to care for your skin, it's important to use a quality hand wash. Then after, always follow up with a hand cream, preferably one that's infused with healthy-aging ingredients—like these top picks.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.