The Optimal Time To Apply Hand Cream Post-Washing, According To A Derm

mbg Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty and Lifestyle Senior Editor. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department.
Hands Applying a Cream

It's no surprise that we are all washing our hands a bit more right now. And, first and foremost, we must protect ourselves from COVID-19. Diligent hand hygiene is one of the many ways we can do that. However, as we've noted before, oversanitizing can cause issues for your skin barrier and microbiome. This, too, should be a real concern that we take seriously as we try and navigate our post-COVID world. 

An easy fix that one dermatologist swears by? Easy: Having a hand cream nearby and applying it within moments of hand washing. Here's why.

Why you need to moisturize right after washing. 

If you wait too long post-wash—especially if you happen to be using an over-drying soap—you run the risk of drying out your hands, causing cracks in the skin barrier, and even compromising your microbiome. How long is too long? Ideally you'll do it immediately, but any time under two minutes is generally OK. 

"It's essential to moisturize as often as possible to restore those lipids and encourage the regrowth of healthy bacteria, or your skin microbiome," says board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D. "I carry a hand moisturizer with me at all times and apply it within moments of washing or sanitizing my hands throughout the day. If you wait too long, you miss that narrow window of opportunity to really trap and seal those nourishing ingredients in the skin before all the water evaporates off the surface, further compromising your skin."

What happens when you don't trap in the water, as Bowe notes, is that the water that lingers on the hands post-wash evaporates into the air making your skin drier than before—a phenomenon known as transepidermal water loss. (Hand-washing isn't the only cause. This can happen at any time of day and for many reasons. For example, your skin experiences it more at night, or you may experience it in drier climates.) But as in the case of regular washing, it can happen because you are stripping your skin of important barrier lipids. These barrier lipids are what keep all the good stuff in, and if you strip your skin of them while sanitizing, you'll need to replace them ASAP. And the easiest and most effective way to do this is by simply applying a natural moisturizer after every wash. 

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The takeaway.

We can't avoid washing our hands right now—nor should we. But a compromised skin barrier is something that's best avoided. If you're on the hunt for a new cream, here are some of our favorite hand creams to check out. 

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