The cold and windy beginning of spring is hardly the kindest on anyone’s skin, but especially for nurses.
In combination with the weather, the constant washing and re-washing of hands performed by a nurse on a daily basis can wreak havoc on skin which is already dry and irritated. According to the CDC, some nurses may even experience irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis from the alcohol-based hand sanitizers provided by health organizations as best-practice hand hygiene! What is a nurse to do? We can hardly avoid hand hygiene, as it has been long known that it is the very best way to prevent the spread of germs in any setting.
Fortunately, there are several measures nurses can take to heal their poor hands and prevent irritation from occurring in the first place without foregoing hand hygiene!
3 Helpful Tips for Dealing with Dry Skin
Use Soap and Water When Possible
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are proven to be effective, but so is good old-fashioned handwashing with soap and water. Follow the basic rules you learned in nursing school, with a few added twists. First, be sure to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds (per CDC guidelines) – this means you need to wash for as long as it takes to sing the alphabet song. However, forego the hot water and choose warm or cool water as this is less drying. Most organizations require you to use the soap they provide, and these soaps may or may not have a moisturizing component. Be sure to pay attention to the ingredients in the soap you are using and speak up at staff meetings if you find that they are not meeting your needs. There are many different options on the market that can be explored if enough voices make themselves heard. Lastly, do not rub your hands dry with paper towels, but instead blot them dry. This is the best possible way to ensure skin does not take an unnecessary beating during repeated handwashing.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Most healthcare facilities offer both a waterless hand soap as well as a hand moisturizer for staff use. Use the moisturizer provided while in the workplace unless other options have been specifically approved by your facility. When you go home at the end of your shift make sure to continue a moisturizer routine there as well. There are two different main ingredients in most moisturizers on the market: emollients and humectants. Emollients act as lubricants that make the skin smooth and soft. Common emollients are lanolin and jojoba oil. Humectants help skin retain moisture and also attract moisture from the environment. Common humectants are glycerin and lactic acid. Get to know your ingredients and experiment with which ones work best for your skin!
Protect Your Hands at Home
Facing the cold weather on your walk to and from the hospital, or while spending time outside with your family? Wear soft gloves to protect your skin from the elements, and it will be better prepared to take a beating while at work! When going to bed at night, layer on a thick hand cream (avoid lotions, as they can be drying) and cover with a pair of light cotton gloves and you will awaken with soft and supple hands. I’ve found that Eucerin and Aveeno make excellent moisturizing creams for even the driest skin. Other nurses additionally find that running a humidifier at home helps keep their skin in the best possible shape. Explore options that work for you!