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Hand Washing: Can You Go Too Far?


We’ve all seen the signs and heard the announcements. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to avoid contacting, or passing along, all kinds of illnesses.

Many of us carry hand sanitizers at all times, ready to pull out at the first sign of germs or dirt. Hand sanitizers are also popping up in unexpected places. In recent days, I’ve seen them at the reception desk in a hotel, in a hotel’s bar, in a coffee shop next to the cash register, and next to the cash register at my local grocery store.

I work around a lot of people, many of whom seem to be coughing and sneezing on a regular basis. A couple months ago, I decided to ramp up my hand washing. I was quite pleased with my efforts to try and avoid disease, until I encountered a side-effect of frequent hand washing.

At first, my hands started itching, just a bit. Then, I noticed a few red spots  on the sides of my hands. I thought it was an allergic reaction of some kind, and started popping allergy medications. It didn’t help. In fact, the itching and redness started spreading.

Finally, I went to my dermatologist, who told me that it wasn’t an allergic reaction, it was the result of too frequent hand washing. I had a serious case of dry hands.  She commented that she was seeing a lot of similar problems this fall.  And what are you supposed to do to avoid this problem? Don’t wash your hands so frequently. Talk about mixed messages.

I’ve settled on a compromise that so far is working. I’m washing my hands just as much, but am using intensive efforts to avoid extreme dryness. I’ve purchased some really gloppy, greasy hand ointments, slather them on my hands a couple times a day, and then put on gloves. At other times, the minute I wash my hands, I use shea butter lotion to fight dry hands.

Are you washing your hands more than usual? Have you experienced any side effects?


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