Washing our hands with a good antimicrobial soap or sanitizing them before eating is one of the most effective and essential ways to stay healthy. While this habit was imbibed into our minds since our childhood days, a majority of us did not impart it into our lifestyle yet.
Until COVID-19 happened.
Washing or sanitizing our hands frequently has become the new normal. But, how much of this cleansing act is too much? Does frequent washing of our hands do more harm than good? How much is too much?
Let us find the answers to these questions in this article and understand the right frequency of washing our hands so that we remain healthy during and after this pandemic.
Before we understand the consequences of frequent washing of our hands, let us understand the science behind washing hands and what happens when we do it.
Why should you wash your hands?
Germs from an animal or a human can be passes onto objects which we might touch with our hands. These germs or microbes transfer to our hands and then into our bodies when we eat food without washing or hands.
It can also enter our body if we touch our face with our hands through our eyes nose and mouth and eventually make us sick or dangerously sick in the current situation.
In addition to making us sick, these germs on our hands can be transferred to other objects and can get in contact with other humans, thus, spreading the germ further.
That is why we need to regularly wash our hands to avoid sicknesses such as diarrhea, respiratory, eye, skin, and many such infections.
If we look at this on a broader spectrum, in addition to preventing sickness by washing hands, it may also help in reducing the possibility of developing an Antibiotic Resistance due to the regular usage of antibiotics to recover during sickness.
What happens when you wash your hands?
Whether it is an antimicrobial or a cheap soap, when you wash your hands with it, it forms lather which contains bubble-like structures called micelles. These micelles capture the germs, viruses, dirt, and much more and trap them inside the structures.
The soap we use to wash our hands basically consists of a compound called surfactants which has two ends to it. One is hydrophilic, which interacts and mixes with water, and the other end is hydrophobic which does not gel with water but easily mixes with other biological materials such as viruses, dirt, oils, and more.
The hydrophobic end of these surfactants captures the germs and dirt inside. These are then washed off of your hands through the water, which the hydrophilic end of the surfactants readily interacts with.
As the above process takes time to happen, a 20-second hand wash rule has been established.
When and how to wash your hands?
Just by putting soap and water on our hands and washing quickly does not effectively remove the germs from our hands. The germs and dirt that crept inside our fingernails, wrinkles, and splints must come in contact with the soap and water solution that you use to wash.
In order for this whole process to happen, research has confirmed that it takes about 20 seconds. Hence, the 20-second hand wash rule. If you abandon the handwashing ritual in between, only half the germs will be effectively removed from your hands. So, always make sure that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Here’s when you must wash your hands:
- Before and after having a meal or preparing it
- After cooking animal products like chicken, meat, pork etc
- Treating wounds or open cuts
- Before removing your contact lens
- After using the washroom
- After handling garbage
- After touching an animal or pet
- After blowing your nose or coughing into your hands
- When there is visible dirt on your hands
Washing hands or using a sanitizer, which is effective in removing germs?
While we do not have the option to always wash our hands, sanitizing our hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer or a disinfectant would kill the germs from your hands but do not remove these germs from the surface of your hands.
The sanitizers are designed to kill germs and not remove them off of your hands like soap does. So, washing your hands with any soap is always a better option than using a sanitizer. However, in times you do not have access to water and soap, using a sanitizer is always wise.
Now that we understand why and how to wash hands, let us look at the bigger picture of washing your hands more frequently, what it does to your hands, and how to prevent it.
What happens if you wash your hands too often?
Washing your hands too often removes the germs microbes from your hands, however, it also can damage your skin if you are overdoing it. It strips the healthy natural oils from the skin surface on your hands and messes its balance. This, in turn, drys your skin and splits it.
It will also remove the good bacteria called microbiomes present on your hands and eventually the skin your hands might get chapped and develop cracks. If your skin is not intact, germs will be able to enter your body easily. So, it is important that you do not overdo the washing of your hands.
Some of the signs of overwashing of your hands are red, itchy, scaly skin or flaky skin. In this case, using a sanitizer temporarily is recommended.
According to research conducted by the University College London, washing your hands 6-10 times a day is enough to keep yourself safe from COVID-19 or other viruses. However, wash your hands whenever you feel is required.
Tips for maintaining your natural skin health while washing hands too often:
- Use moisturizing soap.
- Using hot water to wash hands will dry the skin quickly, so use normal or lukewarm water while washing hands.
- Us a moisturizer after washing your hands.
- Use a skin balm if you find your skin increasing dry.
- Do not wipe you hands with a cloth to avoid abrasions on your skin. Instead the blot dry method with a paper towel.
If the above tips did not help you much or if you find the drying of your skin worsens, it is recommended to see a Skin Specialist. You may Consult the Best Dermatologists in Hyderabad or anywhere from the safety and comfort of your home through Redheal.