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This One Hand-Washing Tip Can Keep Your Skin From Looking Scaly 

Anonymous woman washing hands
Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
November 29, 2020
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We'll go ahead and assume that you're a smart hand-washer by now: You use soap and water when you can, a hand sanitizer only when you're on-the-go, and you moisturize your paws right after toweling off. Although, what might've been a stellar hand-washing ritual in the summer months may need a tweak come crisper weather. If your hands appear pruned and scaly of late, it's probably time for a friendly reminder. 

You've likely heard some version before, but let's burn it into your brain: You need to wash your hands in cool water in the winter. 

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Why you should wash your hands in cool water.

Simple: "Hot water evaporates faster," says board-certified dermatologist Purshiva Patel, M.D., founder of Visha Skincare. So unless you apply moisturizer immediately after scrubbing (board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., recommends no longer than two minutes), it'll leave your skin even drier than it was before. And considering your skin faces an increase in transepidermal water loss during the colder months, you'll want to do everything you can to keep moisture locked in—which makes quickly evaporating hot water a no.

Evaporation aside, hot water also has the ability to strip the natural oils and lipids from your skin. When your lipid barrier is continuously compromised, cracks and scaly, itchy skin tend to follow suit. That's why many derms recommend sticking to lukewarm water when showering or washing your face—sure, a steamy spray might feel pleasant, but your skin pays the price. Again, arid weather can weaken your skin barrier function already, so you don't want to aggravate it further. 

So when frequently washing your hands this winter (as you should!), keep the water temperature cool. You might think that only hot, scalding water can effectively kill the bacteria lingering on your palms, but rest assured, it's not so much the water itself as it is the soap. As the CDC notes in their "Handwashing" guidelines1: "The temperature of the water does not appear to affect microbe removal."

That said, find yourself a soothing, hydrating hand soap, and stick to a room-temperature (or slightly warm if you so desire) rinse. Your skin barrier will happily reward you with smooth, scale-free hands. 

The takeaway. 

You may have hand-washing down to a T (pandemic, and all), but we all need a friendly reminder now and then. Your skin barrier already suffers in colder weather, so you'd hate to strip it further, right? Make sure to never rinse under hot water, use a gentle hand soap, and continue to moisturize, and you should hopefully see those cracks subside.

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