Is Your Sanitizer Addiction Aging Your Hands?
Perhaps it's because I live in New York City, but there are very few women I know who don't carry around a travel-size tube of hand sanitizer, which they whip out post-subway, after touching any public door handle, and following cab rides. Most moms I know, too, carry one with them at all times—ready to squeeze a dollop on their kid's palms at any given moment.
And while it's true that regularly washing hands or using sanitizer in a pinch is good at slowing the spread of germs, it has an unintended consequence: It's drying out, and potentially aging, the skin.
There's an old, silly quip about if you really want to know a woman's real age, just look at her hands. It's a bogus, out-of-date cliché, but that being said: Most of us give more attention to the skin on our face than the rest of the body. But, much like the face, hands are exposed to sun and the elements—more so than any other part.
And then when you regularly add in dehydrating, irritating ingredients—like those found in hand sanitizers—you're only exacerbating the issue. And we're not just talking about the standard-variety sanitizers. Even the most well-intentioned, natural, and DIY options contain strong actives like witch hazel, tea tree oil, and, yes, alcohol. (Considering the product's job is to disinfect hands, it makes sense.) Just to put it in perspective: What if you applied harsh, astringent serums to your face multiple times a day, throughout the day, every single day?
"Alcohol, the active ingredient in most sanitizers, will dry out your hands and strip the skin of its natural barrier," says board-certified dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D. This not only causes premature aging, but it can also lead to serious issues, like cracks in the skin and damaged cuticles. "Many patients I have who use sanitizer regularly will also pick at the dry skin around the nail or joints, and that will lead to infection," she says.
So what are you to do if you are a germophobe? The first thing to try is to keep the sanitizer usage to the palms, says Downie. And then, toss in a travel hand cream along with your travel sanitizer and make this a two-step process. First sanitize, then hydrate.
Plus, many hand creams include skin-healing ingredients that were previously reserved for only the finest of face products. Weleda Skin Food, for example, is ultra-thick and rich in calendula. Osea Anti-Aging Hand Cream mixes in a firming red algae extract to the shea butter and coconut oil base. Farmacy All-In-One Savior uses the brand's special, locally sourced honey to hydrate and soothe minor irritations. Or Grown Alchemist Age-Repair Hand Cream contains phyto-peptides to aid in collagen production.
But another risk you might not be thinking of: "Even if you are taking care of your hands and you apply sunscreen in the morning, every time you apply hand sanitizer, you are removing that," says Downie. Her tip? Get a portable mineral SPF powder (ColoreScience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 comes in four diverse shades), and every time you go to reapply SPF to your face, brush some on the back of your hands.
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