Frequent hand washing and sanitizing has become the new normal for families alike. Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important now than ever to scrub those germs away properly and often. Good hand hygiene is the best line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, including COVID-19.
By now kids probably know the proper way to wash their hands. It’s best to use soap and warm water, lather for at least 20 seconds and then rinse well. If a sink isn’t available, hand sanitizer is the next best thing.
But as temperatures dip, the outside air becomes dry and blustery, and as drying indoor heat cranks up, all this hand washing and sanitizing is wreaking havoc on our kids’ hands.
“Kids are more susceptible to wear and tear on their hands because they have thinner, more delicate skin than adults,” said Dr. Jennifer Valentic, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Medina. “Also, their skin barrier loses water or moisture much more easily.”
So don’t let dry and cracked hands ruin your kids’ fun this winter. Dr. Valentic offers 5 tips to combat common wintertime side effects to keep those tiny hands soft and warm — perfect for hand holding this winter.
Protect skin from the harsh elements
When kids go out in the elements, make sure they wear gloves or mittens. The cold air and blustery winds can quickly dry out their skin. Keeping their hands covered helps limit moisture evaporation and protects their skin from the cold, dry air.
Be choosy on soap
If possible, limit using harsh soaps on your child’s hands. Antibacterial or deodorant soaps aren’t necessary to kill germs and can actually be more irritating than regular hand soap. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest antibacterial soap cleans better than regular soap.
When shopping for hand soap, look for types that mention “moisturizing” or “conditioning” on the labels. Also, avoid hand soaps that are scented, which can be more drying and cause irritation.
When bathing your child, use soap only on the extra dirty parts to avoid drying out the skin even further.
Choose a happy medium on water temperature
When washing their hands, kids should use warm water. If the water is too hot, it can further dry out their hands and cause more irritation.
This is also a good rule of thumb for bathing. However, if kids insist on hot water for bathing — and who would blame them? — limit their bath or shower time to 10 minutes.
Moisturizing is the key
Encourage your children to use a moisturizer each time they wash their hands or bathe to seal the water and moisture back into their skin. It may be helpful to leave a bottle of hand cream next to the sink to remind kids to moisturize after washing.
When shopping for moisturizers, choose hand cream over lotion. Thicker creams are richer and tend to stay on better. A good rule of thumb is to choose products that need to be scooped out of a tub or squeezed from a tube. Products that come in a pump tend to be thinner and have more water in them.
Again, avoid scents and fragrances to limit irritation.
Ointments might be the ticket
If you find moisturizing isn’t enough after a few days, try an ointment, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor. Dr. Valentic recommends putting it on right before bedtime. For school-age kids, parents can even cover their hands with socks or mittens to help seal in the moisture overnight. However, this is not recommended for babies under 1 year of age due to the dangers of SIDS.
If it’s still not enough and your child’s hands are especially cracked and dry, try using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on rough and irritated skin under the ointment.
“We can’t control the weather, and frequent hand washing is a must right now,” said Dr. Valentic. “The good news is there are steps we can take to protect our kids’ tiny, sensitive hands from wintertime effects.”
If nothing seems to work and your child’s hands are severely dry and cracked, call 330-543-2778 to schedule an evaluation with one of our pediatricians to rule out other concerns. Telehealth appointments are now available.
Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 response and resources available for families.