With coronavirus (aka COVID-19) now declared a pandemic, there’s even more focus on hand-washing as health services everywhere continue to stress the importance of this simple task to stop the spread of infection.
“Hand washing is the single best thing you can do for hygiene and to stop transmission of infections,” says Dr Mackay.
That said, he says excessive hand washing can lead to dryness and a breakdown in the skin barrier. However, many people wash their hands all day, every day – health professionals for example, especially those working on operating theatres – so there are ways of managing that.
“You want to be washing regularly with soaps that are suitable to your skin and moisturising regularly in between,” Dr Mackay says.
However, don’t scrub your hands because too much hand washing can deplete the skin of its moisturising agents, leading to cracked or itchy hands.
Dr Mackay suggests washing regularly with a gentle soap and applying a simple moisturiser to your hands before bed to give them a chance to recover from all the cleansing during the day.
If you don’t have access to soap and water – you’re on the train, in the supermarket or at a café, for example – you should use a hand sanitising gel containing a minimum of 60% alcohol. Keep one in your briefcase or handbag and you’ll be set.
And if you’re not sure how long to wash your hands for, experts recommend singing two rounds of ‘happy birthday’ to yourself. You can do that or you can create a hand-washing poster using your favourite song, thanks to a savvy 17-year-old’s online tool, Wash Your Lyrics. We’ve channelled Dolly Parton.