In theory, washing your hands should be a simple endeavor. You pump some soap into your palms, lather for 30 seconds, and rinse. But according to Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York City board-certified dermatologist, there are certain things you might be doing wrong. And the result, she says, is not only germy palms but also a slew of skin issues.
“As a dermatologist, I wash my hands 60 to 80 times a day—before and after every patient I see,” says Dr. Nazarian. “And if I didn’t engage in proper hand-washing techniques, my hands would be absolutely destroyed.” Thankfully, she’s shared exactly what those techniques are so that the rest of us won’t destroy our hands, either. Read on for the biggest mistakes she sees people making in their handwashing routines, and what to do instead.
1. Using too much soap
When it comes to applying soap, a little bit goes a long way. “Applying too much can dry out skin,” says Dr. Nazarian, adding that the same goes for hand sanitizer. A single pump should do the trick, and as long as you’re washing with hot water for 30 to 45 seconds (or as long as it takes to sing the chorus of “I Want It That Way”), it should be enough to help you rid those germs from your hands.
2. Substituting sanitizer for good, old fashioned soap and water
Hand sanitizer is a great solution for killing germs on the go, but it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for an actual lather and rinse. The reason? While sanitizer works to kill the germs and microbes on your hands, soap and water actually kills them and washes them away. Plus, says Dr. Nazarian, “hand sanitizer is much, much harsher on your skin” because the primary ingredient is alcohol, which is drying. “I tell people to use soap and water, because the alcohol in sanitizer strips your skin,” she explains. So while it’s fine to squirt some Purel in a pinch, if you have access to a sink, your best bet is always going to be to use it.
3. Spending too much time washing the backs of your hands
It makes sense that your palms are the filthiest part of your hands since they’re the spot responsible for holding onto subway poles and opening bathroom doors. While washing the backs of your hands is certainly important, you don’t want to spend too much time on them. “There’s no need to apply so much soap to the backs of your hands because the germs are mostly on your palms,” says Dr. Nazarian. “I tell people to take it easy on the backs of their hands because that side dries out very easily since there aren’t a lot of oil glands there. They don’t have the same hydration as the rest of your body, and if you’re too aggressive, you’re going to get cracking on your knuckles.”
4. Drying incorrectly
Once you step away from the sink, you’ll want to make sure you’re drying your hands in a way that won’t leave them rubbed raw. “People will take their towel or paper towel and dry really aggressively,” says Dr. Nazarian, adding that this tactic is decidedly not a good idea. Instead, she suggests patting your palms dry (and leaving the backs of your hands alone), which will help prevent irritation and unnecessary skin dryness.
5. Keeping your nails too long
While this isn’t technically a “handwashing mistake,” it is important to mention when it comes to keeping your hands clean and healthy. “Bacteria and germs love to hide under nails, so we recommend that people cut their nails short because it allows them to clean better when they wash their hands,” says Dr. Nazarian. And if you find your nails are drying out as a result of increased handwashing, she suggests applying a petroleum jelly-based product, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, on top of them before bed every night, which will create a barrier that helps seal in hydration.
Speaking of pandemic-related skin issues, check out the video below for everything you need to know about dealing with maskne.