Caring for Sensitive Skin during Covid-19

Skin irritation and dryness from coronavirus hand washing and sanitizers

By David Mays
Mar 31, 2020

Are soaps as good and what types of soaps work best?  Do they really kill the virus?

Let’s start with what soap really is…

Merriam-Webster defines soap as a cleansing and emulsifying (big word only means to make something thick or solid) agent usually made by combining an alkali ingredient (remember chemistry, something with a high pH) and a fat or fatty acid.

Soaps are described in history and were regularly made by combing animal fats with agents extracted from wood ashes.  Modern commercial soaps do not go as far as to use extracts from wood anymore but some do use food grade sodium hydroxide. When made properly, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) notes that no sodium hydroxide will be left as it reacts fully with other ingredients and is not present in the final product.

The USFDA recognizes an ordinary soap as being made by combining fats or oils with an alkali agent. The fats can be animal, vegetable, or mineral sources. However, per the USFDA, very few soaps are made according to ingredients and methods described in history. Meaning they are not “true” soaps.

In addition, many are considered cosmetics since they make claims to moisturize the skin, impart a scent, or remove or cover up other unpleasant odors. These products can also be considered drugs if claims of germ-killing, acne treating, or management of other conditions like eczema are made.

In reality, most cleansers on the market, regardless of claims on package or classification by the USFDA, have the same goal, to cleanse the skin. Most form what are called micelles to remove dirt, oil, and impurities from the skin. In simple terms, we think of micelles as round structures where the outside is water-loving and the inside is fat/oil/lipid loving.  The outside interacts with water to create bubbles and foam, while the inside dissolves and removes surface dirt and oil.

Regardless if a soap is described as natural, synthetic, or instead uses difficult to pronounce names, they all work in the same way to cleanse the skin – dissolving and removing unwanted substances and impurities…yes…even viruses.

Besides the physical action of soap bubbles that remove unwanted substances from the skin, soaps also interact with the fatty/lipid layers of viral cell walls.

Several great videos demonstrate this action graphically and are available online

Remember, the USFDA considers products that make antiviral or antibacterial claims on the package as drugs. In reality, as mentioned above, all soaps basically work in the same way, regardless of what they say on their package and that the lipid wall of a virus is no match when you wash your hands as recommended.

What does this mean to you?  If you cannot find a hand soap on the shelf at your local store or online through your favorite web store, look no further than your shower or kitchen. Bar soaps are a standard but body washes, shampoos, and even dishwashing detergents all work similarly to soaps with the goal of foaming and impurity removal.  What’s also great is that these agents are notoriously effective at dissolving and breaking up oily and fatty substances. Remember that viral cell wall?

Soaps for Sensitive Skin


Hands are drying out from sanitizers and from over-washing hands.  What can I do to help?  Can I get eczema or contact dermatitis from excessive washing and applying sanitizer? 

Since the skin is your largest organ, you want to do your part to maintain and support its normal function.  Hand eczema is described in the medical literature and is documented in professional groups like nurses who wash their hands as much as 100 times a day when caring for patients.

Washing and use of antibacterial hand sanitizers not only remove unwanted impurities but with repeated use, can also impact the normal skin microbiome and surface oils that protect and make up your skin barrier. To help balance and prevent this from happening, dermatologists recommend the use of a lotion or moisturizer after washing to help maintain not only the hydration of your skin but also to help protect the barrier as it recovers.

When you find yourself washing and cleaning your hands frequently, it’s a good idea to not only look for products specifically formulated for hands but also those that most appropriate for sensitive skin. 

A cashier told me that they have to wear gloves because the industrial-grade sanitizer is causing lots of skin issues with workers.  If this is true we should definitely add gloves too.  

If you suffer from sensitive skin and find your hands even more reactive following routine cleaning and the use of hand sanitizers, it might be a good time to give your hands a little pampering this evening when you go to bed.  We recommend using a good moisturizer specifically formulated for sensitive skin to coat your hands just prior to bed.

After you moisturize, put on a pair of disposable gloves.  If you do not have any disposable gloves, remember dish gloves, clean garden gloves, and even a set of old winter mittens can work in a pinch. We’ve even recommended the use of plastic wrap or plastic bags taped around the wrist when nothing else is available. The goal here is to seal in the moisture and to give your hands a chance to heal. 

Hand Sanitizers for Sensitive Skin

I’m headed out to the store and I’m worried about how best to protect myself?  What recommendations do you have?

In a time of self-isolation and quarantine and with all the conversations online, it can be difficult to know what you should be doing to protect yourself.  Below are some simple considerations for you to remember.

Gloves – If you are healthy and quarantined with your family, the use of gloves around the house is not necessary. You have access to soap and water and can quickly clean up following interactions with delivery services, disposing of unwanted plastic and cardboard.

When you head out to the grocery store or pharmacy, you may be worried however. This is entirely understandable but remember a few things. You won’t need gloves until you physically are outside of your quarantine space…this includes your car.

Be sure to wash and/or sanitize your hands prior to wearing gloves and remember that your mobile phone should be placed in your purse or pocket, away from any potential contamination.

Shop as you would normally but when you are ready for check out, consider using a contactless service like GOOGLE, SAMSUNG, or APPLE Pay. If you need to access your phone or credit card, please remove the glove of your dominant hand by rolling it off toward the fingers. Unwanted substances will not be inside the inverted glove.

Consider also the use of your own stylus/pen to interact with common keypads and or credit card machines. These are being routinely cleaned now by most stores, but it may make you feel better.

Be sure to sanitize your hands again and head off to your transportation. Open your vehicle with the exposed hand and use your gloved hand to place your purchases inside. Remove the second glove in the same way as before and discard it. Sanitize your hands and you can be on your way. You may also want to remove your shoes before entering your house as well to limit possible exposure. 

Hand Creams for Sensitive Skin


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