Eczema from Washing Hands: Prevention and Treatment Tips

Eczema from Washing Hands: Prevention and Treatment Tips

Eczema from washing hands has become a growing concern, particularly due to the increased emphasis on hand hygiene amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Hand eczema, or hand dermatitis, is an inflammation of the skin on the hands that can be triggered by various factors such as excessive hand washing, frequent use of hand sanitizers, and prolonged contact with water or irritants. One of the key aspects of managing this condition involves understanding the importance of maintaining an acidic skin pH, which is crucial for skin health.

Frequent hand washing, especially with harsh soaps and hot water, can disrupt the skin's acid mantle, an essential barrier that maintains the optimal pH of the skin. This disruption can lead to an increase in skin pH, negatively impacting the skin microbiome and weakening the skin barrier - factors that contribute significantly to the development and exacerbation of hand eczema. The removal of natural oils during hand washing not only causes dryness and irritation but also impedes the skin's ability to self-regulate its pH. To minimize the risk of developing hand eczema from washing hands, it is crucial to choose gentle cleansers, use lukewarm water, and use moisturizers that help maintain the skin's acidic pH after washing.

Key Takeaways

  • Hand eczema can be triggered by frequent hand washing and exposure to irritants
  • Use gentle cleansers, lukewarm water, and pH-correcting moisturizers regularly to minimize risks
  • Awareness and prevention strategies are necessary for managing hand eczema

Understanding Eczema

What Is Eczema?

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a common skin condition characterized by inflammation, itchiness, and redness of the skin. It often results in dry, cracked, and scaly patches on the skin and can affect people of any age, although it is more common among children. There are several factors that contribute to eczema, including genetic predispositions, environmental factors, and irritants. One such irritant is excessive hand washing, which can cause or exacerbate eczema symptoms.

Eczema is often linked to an overactive immune response, which causes the body to react negatively to even mild substances. This leads to the inflammation and itchiness associated with eczema. There is evidence to suggest that the prevalence of hand eczema itself may decrease adherence to hand hygiene practices, meaning that poorly managed eczema can create a vicious cycle of poor hand hygiene and worsened eczema symptoms.

Types of Eczema

There are several types of eczema, including:

  1. Atopic dermatitis – The most common form of eczema, often seen in children and caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
  2. Contact dermatitis – Occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with an irritating substance, such as soaps, detergents, or chemicals used in hand washing.
  3. Dyshidrotic eczema – Affects the hands and feet specifically, and is characterized by small, itchy blisters.
  4. Nummular eczema – Develops as round, coin-shaped patches on the skin.

Managing eczema typically involves identifying and avoiding triggers, maintaining a proper skincare routine, and using topical treatments such as moisturizers and corticosteroids

Understanding the different types of eczema and their respective causes can help sufferers adopt appropriate strategies for managing their symptoms and minimizing the impact of the condition on their daily lives.

Causes of Hand Eczema

Frequent Hand Washing

Frequent hand washing is a leading cause of hand eczema. Observational data show that people who wash their hands more frequently have a higher risk of developing hand eczema.

Some contributing factors to frequent hand washing contributing to hand eczema include:

  • Disruption of the skin acid mantle: This can lead to an increase in skin pH, negatively impacting the skin microbiome and weakening the skin barrier. 
  • Stripping of natural oils: Excessive hand washing removes natural oils from the skin, leading to dryness and irritation.

Soaps and Detergents

The type of soap or detergent used in hand washing can also contribute to the development of hand eczema. Soaps and detergents can act as irritants to the skin, leading to rashes, redness, and swelling. It is crucial to use mild, fragrance-free, and hypoallergenic soaps to help maintain a healthy skin barrier.

Here are some tips for selecting appropriate soaps and detergents:

  • Look for mild formulations designed for sensitive skin
  • Avoid products containing fragrances or dyes
  • Consider using hypoallergenic products that are less likely to cause allergic reactions

Irritants and Allergens

Irritants and allergens found in everyday items can cause or exacerbate hand eczema. Common irritants include water, solvents, and household cleaners. Atopic dermatitis, an endogenous cause of hand eczema, can also make the skin more susceptible to irritants and allergens.

Some common allergens and irritants include:

  • Water: Prolonged water exposure can weaken the skin barrier and increase the risk of hand eczema.
  • Chemicals: Disinfectants, solvents, and other chemicals used in cleaning products can cause skin irritation, especially when exposure is frequent or prolonged.
  • Occupational hazards: Workers in occupations that require constant exposure to irritants (e.g., dishwashers, healthcare workers, hairstylists) are at a greater risk of developing hand eczema.

By understanding the causes of hand eczema, it is easier to find ways to prevent and manage this condition effectively.

Symptoms of Hand Eczema

Recognizing Eczema on Hands

Hand eczema, also known as hand dermatitis, is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages, often due to frequent hand washing or exposure to harsh chemicals. Recognizing eczema on hands is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Some key features to look out for include:

  • Redness: Eczema often causes redness and inflammation of the skin, which may be more prominent on the hands.
  • Scaling: Affected areas of the skin may appear dry and flaky, with visible scaling or peeling.
  • Infiltration: Eczema can cause the skin to thicken, particularly in the creases of the fingers or on the palms.
  • Blisters: In some cases, small fluid-filled blisters might be present, which can eventually burst and form crusts.

Common Symptoms

People with hand eczema often experience a variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Itching: One of the most frequent complaints among people with hand eczema is itching, which can be mild or intense, and often worsens at night.
  2. Dryness: Hand eczema can lead to extreme dryness and rough skin texture. Using moisturizers can help alleviate this symptom.
  3. Pain: Eczema can cause pain in the affected areas due to the inflammation, cracking or blistering of the skin.
  4. Burning sensation: Some people may experience a burning sensation, especially when coming into contact with irritants such as harsh soaps or cleaning products.

Adapting preventive measures, such as using gentle soap and proper hand hygiene, can help reduce the symptoms and risk of developing the condition. Consulting a healthcare professional for a personalized treatment plan is advised for individuals suffering from severe or persistent hand eczema.

Prevention Strategies

Protective Measures

To prevent hand eczema, it’s important to adopt protective measures. Wearing gloves can serve as an effective barrier, especially when performing tasks that involve contact with water or irritants. 

Consider using cotton-lined gloves to provide additional comfort and protection. Moreover, adapting hand hygiene practices can benefit in prevention, such as substituting hand washing with soap for alcohol disinfection when possible.

Hand Care Routine

Implementing a regular hand care routine can help prevent and alleviate hand eczema. Consider the following steps:

  1. Gentle washing: Use mild soaps and lukewarm water to prevent skin irritation.
  2. Pat dry: Avoid rubbing your hands with a towel; gently pat them dry instead.
  3. Moisturize: Apply a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, pH-correcting moisturizer after washing and throughout the day to maintain the skin's natural pH and barrier health.

Remember to keep nails short and clean, as this can prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce the risk of skin infection.

Choosing the Right Products

Selecting suitable products is important in hand eczema prevention. Opt for mild soaps and moisturizers intended for sensitive skin, as they contain fewer irritants. Fragrance-free and hypoallergenic products are generally preferable, as they reduce the likelihood of skin reactions. 

Healthcare workers, in particular, should consider using appropriate hand sanitizers and cleansers that comply with preventive guidelines. When possible, consult a dermatologist or healthcare professional for personalized recommendations.

Treatment Options


There are several medications available to help treat hand eczema caused by frequent washing. Topical corticosteroids are a common choice for reducing inflammation and itchiness, available in various strengths depending on the severity of the condition. For more severe cases, doctors may prescribe calcineurin inhibitors like pimecrolimus and tacrolimus, which help to control inflammation without the side effects associated with topical steroids. It is important to follow the prescribed treatment plan and consult your healthcare provider if side effects occur.

Home Remedies

In addition to medical treatments, there are several home remedies that can help alleviate hand eczema symptoms:

  1. Moisturize: Apply a gentle, fragrance-free, pH-correcting moisturizer after every hand washing to help protect the skin's barrier.
  2. Use mild soap: Avoid harsh soaps and opt for mild, fragrance-free soaps to reduce irritation.
  3. Wear gloves: Wearing gloves during activities that require contact with water or irritants can provide an extra layer of protection for the hands.
  4. Avoid triggers: Identify and eliminate any potential triggers or allergens, like certain detergents or cleaning products.

When to See a Doctor

It is essential to consult a healthcare provider if you suspect hand eczema, especially if symptoms persist or worsen despite home remedies and over-the-counter treatments. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help prevent long-term skin problems and improve overall quality of life. Some potential indications to seek professional help include:

  • Severe or persistent itching
  • Signs of infection (e.g., pus, redness, or warmth)
  • Unresponsive to home treatments

Remember that eczema treatment is often individualized, and consulting a healthcare professional can help determine the most appropriate approach based on the specific needs and symptoms of each person.

Managing Hand Eczema Long-Term

Frequent hand washing can contribute to the development of hand eczema. In order to manage hand eczema long-term, it is important to adopt a combination of preventative measures and treatment strategies.

One key aspect of managing hand eczema is proper hand hygiene. This includes using a mild, fragrance-free cleansers and lukewarm water when washing your hands. After washing, gently pat your hands dry with a clean towel and apply a pH-correcting, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturizer. These moisturizers work by replenishing the skin's natural oils and restoring the acid mantle, thus supporting the skin's natural defenses. They play a crucial role in re-establishing the skin's pH balance, promoting a healthy skin microbiome, and reinforcing barrier integrity, which are all vital in preventing and managing hand eczema. This helps to maintain the skin barrier and avoid exacerbating the condition. 

Another aspect involved in managing hand eczema is avoiding triggers. Common triggers include harsh chemicals, fragrances, and allergens. Therefore, it is recommended to use gloves when in contact with irritants or allergens and choose fragrance-free products whenever possible.

In addition to prevention, there are various treatment options to help manage hand eczema long-term:

  1. Topical corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory medications help to reduce redness, swelling, and itching. They should be used as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  2. Calcineurin inhibitors: These non-steroidal medications also help to reduce inflammation and are an alternative to corticosteroids for long-term use.
  3. Phototherapy: This treatment involves exposing the affected skin to controlled amounts of ultraviolet light, which can help improve the symptoms.

Therapeutic patient education is another approach to managing hand eczema. As per a study on positive changes in hand care habits, patients can benefit from learning self-care techniques and receiving support, which helps in maintaining the management of their condition.

Consult a healthcare professional when dealing with hand eczema. They can provide guidance on the most suitable treatment options and help monitor the condition to ensure optimal management.

By combining these preventative and treatment approaches, individuals can effectively manage hand eczema long-term, improving their overall quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of hand wash is recommended by dermatologists for those with hand eczema?

Dermatologists often recommend using a mild, fragrance-free, and non-soap based cleanser for those with hand eczema. These cleansers are less likely to cause irritation or exacerbate symptoms. It is also essential to avoid harsh scrubbing and hot water when washing hands.

How can one manage hand eczema that occurs due to frequent hand washing?

To manage hand eczema caused by frequent hand washing, it is vital to moisturize your hands after each wash. Using a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic cream or ointment can help lock in moisture and create a protective barrier on the skin. Avoid using hand sanitizers that contain alcohol, as these can be drying and irritating to the skin.

Are there any effective home remedies to soothe eczema on hands and fingers?

Some home remedies to soothe eczema on hands and fingers include using cold compresses, soaking hands in a lukewarm water and oatmeal bath, and applying aloe vera gel directly to the affected areas. While these remedies can provide relief, it is important to consult with a dermatologist before trying any new treatments to ensure they are suitable and will not worsen symptoms.

What treatment creams are best for hand eczema?

Topical corticosteroids are often prescribed by dermatologists to treat hand eczema, as they can help reduce inflammation and redness. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams can provide relief for mild cases, while stronger prescription-strength creams are recommended for more severe cases. Additionally, non-steroidal treatments like calcineurin inhibitors may also be prescribed for some patients.

Can using soap-free products improve hand eczema symptoms?

Yes, using soap-free products can improve hand eczema symptoms. Traditional soap can remove natural oils from the skin, leading to dryness and irritation. Switching to a soap-free, mild hand cleanser can help reduce these issues and alleviate symptoms.

How does stress contribute to hand eczema flare-ups?

Stress can play a role in hand eczema flare-ups, as it may affect the immune system's ability to manage inflammation. Finding ways to manage stress – through activities such as meditation, exercise, or deep breathing exercises – can help maintain a balanced immune system and potentially reduce the frequency and severity of hand eczema flare-ups.