In the past few months, we have all increased handwashing and hand sanitizing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections. Since beginning these strict practices, have you noticed your hands are more dry, scaly, and red? 

Antimicrobial hand soaps, hand sanitizers, and bleach wipes are flying off the store shelves because they are some of the most effective ways of maintaining hygiene and preventing the spread of infection. We recommend using these products often because of their great antimicrobial characteristics. But if these products are so wonderful… why is our skin so irritated?

are you allergic to your hand sanitizer?

Reactions Caused by Cleansers and Sanitizers


There are generally 2 types of skin reactions caused by cleansers and sanitizers:

Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD) and Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD)

  • ICD refers to dryness, cracking, and itching caused by increased hand washing and use of hand sanitizer. 
  • ACD refers to a true allergy caused by one or more ingredients in the hygiene products.

How do you know which one you have?
It actually may be difficult to tell the difference between ICD and ACD, but here are a few helpful clues:

  • If your hands feel like they’re burning, tight, rough, and cracked, but only mildly itchy, then ICD is likely. This type of reaction is due to the chemical make-up of soaps and sanitizers that deplete skin of the natural oils. Rough dry skin can lead to cracking and even painful fissures.
  • ICD is more common than ACD, and easily remedied with some simple steps that are outlined at the end of this article.
  • If your hands feel very itchy, red, swollen, bumpy, or you have areas of thick leathery skin with fluid oozing from them, then ACD is possible.
  • ACD sometimes requires focused allergy testing to identify the exact cause. However, once identified, the specific ingredient can be avoided in the future, which often leads to complete recovery of the rash.

Believe it or not, the active ingredient in ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizers are very unlikely to cause a true skin allergy. However, they often cause extreme dryness and irritation. The fragrances and preservatives added to hand sanitizers and soaps are more often to blame.

What Can You Do Today to Improve Hand Irritation?


At FRDA, we have come up with some simple recommendations for your hands and skin to feel less irritated while maintaining good hand hygiene.

  1.  Use a very mild soap such as CeraVe cleanser, Dove soap or Cetaphil cleanser
  2. Moisturize throughout the day if possible
  3. Implement a technique called “Soak and Smear”

Soak hands in warm water before bed, pat dry, and apply a thick emollient under cotton gloves. We recommend CeraVe cream or ointment, O’keefes working hands, Cetaphil cream or even Vaseline!  Cover with cotton gloves or socks to keep moisture locked in for the night when you sleep!

If you have questions or want to be seen for painful, dry and maybe even cracking hands – Call FRDA and schedule an appointment today!!

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