125: Hand Washing: How To Naturally Avoid Dry, Cracked, Painful Hands

The general consensus right now is that all of this hand washing (while needed) is triggering cracked, painful, dry hands.

Anyone with rashes on their hands is especially stressed about the excessive hand washing.

Look, I think we ALL get it.

We have to wash our hands right now.

But how do you handle all this hand washing while balancing your skin’s needs to stay moisturized?

As the coronavirus pandemic here in the US gained momentum, I was sitting in the hospital with my dad all day, every day before he passed away.

Hospitals are not a place anyone wants to spend lots of time in especially during a pandemic!

Needless to say, I was washing my hands a ton (with the commercial soap they had in the hospital) and using their hand sanitizers.

How my hands looked just after one day of this was frightening!

The pain of what felt like a thousand papercuts all over my hands because of my eczema flares years ago has certainly given me some sort of PTSD.

I didn’t want to go back and recognized quickly that I wasn’t alone as more people in my community voiced the same exact concerns.

Today’s episode is specifically geared to help you know how to wash and moisturize your hands so that you don’t end up with excessively painful, cracked, dried-out skin.


Remember… to get the most accurate information, consult the CDC, FDA and your local government’s website. This information is to help support you, but does not supersede or replace what’s best for you based on your doctor’s recommendations.


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In this episode:

  • Living in a world of excessive handwashing to reduce the risk of viral infections
  • Why lots of handwashing quickly wrecks your hands
  • 2 biggest reasons why your skin barrier breaks down
  • Natural soap alternatives (you’ve never thought of)
  • How to make your own foaming soap that’s way less harsh
  • Best practices for moisturizing your hands after washing


Commercial or conventional soap products made with petro-chemicals, like mineral oil, will strip away your skin’s natural oils.

For your hands, use a really thick cream because lighter lotions (like what you use on your face) will not cut it right now due to higher water content.

Mother and daughter washing hands

Hand Washing: How To Naturally Avoid Dry, Cracked, Painful Hands (FULL TRANSCRIPT)

Welcome back to episode #125 of the Healthy Skin Show!

In today's episode, I want to talk about hand washing.

We are living in an age of excessive hand washing. It seems like this all kind of hit us over the last three to four weeks.

For many of us, there's this panic because your skin barrier is not a state that can really even handle doing this much hand washing!

There's a lot of people with healthy skin that are having a lot of trouble. Even they notice that their hands are completely dried out and the skin is cracking.

You might remember my eczema impacted my hands. During the fall and winter months, it was really common for my skin to be so excessively dried out.

I felt like I had paper cuts everywhere! 

I couldn't wash my hands with water because water alone would burn.

I’d wear white gloves to bed every night after smothering my hands in oils and all sorts of balms with the hope of holding on to any semblance of moisture that I possibly could.

In many respects, it felt like a losing battle.

So when all of a sudden every single one of us is being encouraged to wash your hands for 20 or 30 seconds multiple times a day…

Having to use harsh cleaning products like Lysol and Clorox and all of these harsh chemicals, everywhere to basically kill viruses on any potential surface…

I started to realize quickly that my hands couldn't take this.

And I found out from reaching out to many of you that you were in the same boat, and you didn't know what to do.

So I sent a series of questions to one of our favorite guests on the show — Rachael Portillo!

While she couldn’t join me live to answer my questions, she was able to record some answers for you so that I could get this out to you very quickly.

It’s my hope that what you’ll learn here will be able to help save your hands, so that way you're not dealing with very painful, dried, cracked skin. And that you don’t end up disrupting the barrier of the skin.

As I was sitting in the midst of a hospital for many days with my dad before he passed away in the beginning of this whole COVID-19 thing. I’m washing my hands like crazy with all their harsh soaps and, of course, my hands got sooo dried out.

Rachael gave me some tips that really helped!

To refresh your memory, Rachael Pontillo is a holistic skincare innovator and best-selling author of a book called “Love Your Skin, Love Yourself”. She’s also the president and co-founder of the Nutritional Aesthetics Alliance, for which I am an advisory board member.

She's a licensed esthetician and educator teaching people how to create their own skincare from more natural ingredients. She loves herbs and she's a wiz with skincare ingredients.

That’s why I knew she'd be the right person to speak on this particular topic!

Using liquid soap to wash hands

Why Hand Washing Is Wrecking Your Hands (Even If You Didn’t Have Rashes On Them Before)

JEN: Why does all of this hand washing dry out your hands whether you have eczema or some sort of rash on your hands or you had very healthy skin before all of this started?

RACHAEL: There really are two main reasons that your hands are quickly drying out.

The first one has to do with pH and the second one has to do with the ingredients that are in the soaps and cleaners that actually do the cleansing.

I'll start with pH. As you know if you have been a listener of the Healthy Skin Show for any period of time, the skin is an acidic environment.

Your skin’s pH should be about 4.5 to 5.5.

The reason that it is slightly acidic is that the microbes living on the surface of the skin require a slightly acidic environment to thrive. They are responsible for helping to keep our skin’s immune system and barrier function intact.

Now, water itself is more alkaline. 

Pure distilled water is a pH of 7 which is considered neutral.

(JEN’S NOTE: You can purchase distilled water in pretty much any grocery store, but it’s not the same as bottled water. It has to be clearly marked as “distilled water”.)

But most people's tap water, unless it has some sort of a pH adjuster on it, is going to be closer to 8, or even higher than that.

Constant contact with water (an alkaline pH) on the slightly acidic skin is actually quite irritating in and of itself without the addition of any soaps or cleaners.

That’s why even just washing your hands with water more often is going to be enough to cause extra irritation dryness and inflammation. It can make your hands feel really dry, red, sore and, for some people, it can even cause really severe chapping or cracks.

Using soap or even a non-soap cleanser makes the handwashing experience even more alkaline because soap itself is even more alkaline than water.

Soap’s pH is closer to 9!

Most of your non-soap foaming cleaners, even though they have a lower pH than that of soap, are still going to be around 8 or 8.5.

A very skilled soap maker might actually be able to make a lower PH soap depending on how much lye they use and what oils happen to be in the soap.

But that is not something that you're typically going to find in soaps on the market. Most of the soaps on the market are going to have that pH around 9.

Soap and non-soap foaming cleansers are made with surfactants which are detergents that separate the oils from the skin below. This is because the dirt or any type of particles sit in the oil.

Keep in mind that your skin’s microbiome also lives on the surface of the skin, residing in and feeding on the natural oils that your skin produces.

Separating the oil away from the skin with surfactants causes the second reason for skin dryness.

Soaps that are made with natural plant oils will have some sort of lipid protection even though they're cleansing. So in most cases, I recommend natural soap over surfactants for hand washing.

Natural soap ingredients

Natural Anti-microbial Soap Ingredient Suggestions

Washing more frequently with a higher pH than what the skin needs is going to cause irritation.

That irritation is going to lead to potential chronic dryness as well as aggravated rashes and other flare-ups.

But also the surfactants in the soap itself can cause an issue.

If you’re using a really strong soap that's NOT made with natural plant oils

If the soap is kind of a commercial or conventional product made with petro-chemicals, like mineral oil

It’s going to really strip away your skin’s natural oils without putting back any protection or nutrients.

So the combination of the alkalinity with harsh surfactants separating the oils away from the skin PLUS washing your hands way more than normal…

That's a recipe for leaving your skin dry, irritated, and more susceptible to problems.

But we’ve got to wash our hands, especially right now given the climate we live in.

So I’m not saying “Don’t wash your hands”.

As far as a hand-washing regimen is concerned, I suggest following the CDC handwashing guidelines to wash for a minimum of 20 seconds at a time with soap and water.

That said, I do not recommend using anti-bacterial soaps because these anti-bacterial agents are extremely harsh.

Some of them that are on the market are still toxic even though they've been banned in other countries as they too are really disruptive to the skin’s microbiome.

Adding in anti-bacterial or antimicrobial agents on a regular basis will kill those healthy skin microbes which lead to greater disruption of your skin barrier.

It can also leave you more susceptible to picking up pathogens (bad microbes) on the skin, which most of us are trying to avoid.

There are certain herbs and oils out there that are naturally more anti-microbial!

I recommend opting for soaps made with the following naturally anti-microbial ingredients:

  • Yarrow
  • Tamanu
  • Neem oil
  • Black seed oil
  • Calendula
  • Lavender
  • Tea Tree oil

These are some ingredients to look for in your handwashing products.

They're not so harsh that they're going to disrupt the skin’s microbiome. And using natural extracts or oils from these plants means that you're also getting the nutrients from those plants.

So it's a more balanced antimicrobial experience that's not going to wipe out an entire population of bacteria and throw off the bio-diversity of the skin’s microbiome.

DIY handmade soap

Best DIY Soap Suggestion To Avoid Drying Out Your Hands

JEN: And is there a way to minimize even further if you're using, say, a natural soap? The impact that it would have because I would imagine that even natural soaps could even be drying.

RACHEAL: I'm not recommending a full-strength soap-based cleanser.

What I recommend is a Castille soap or African Black Soap liquid soap diluted to a 25 to 75 ratio of liquid soap to distilled water in a reusable foaming soap dispenser.

Here are some other product suggestions to buy at the store as well!

These soaps are powerful enough when paired with a foaming dispenser to give you enough cleansing action.

But you're not going to get the full strength and as high of an alkaline experience.

I’ll share with you a PRO tip…

Swap water (or distilled water) in your foaming soap by using a hydrosol instead.

Normally I teach my skincare clients to avoid putting expensive ingredients (like a hydrosol) into a product that you're ultimately going to just wash down the sink.

But I because our hand health is being compromised with all of this hand washing, a hydrosol in place of distilled water to dilute Castille soap or black clay soap is really smart.

Hydrosols have a lower pH than water that is much closer to that of your skin.

Great hydrosol options would be:

  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Calendula hydrosol

Hand moisturizer

Best Way To Moisturize Your Hands After Washing Them

JEN: That's actually a really genius tip. So if then you went on to moisture, what are your thoughts on using moisturizers on your hands?

RACHAEL: Right after you wash while your hands are still damp, moisturize them right away.

I recommend keeping a moisturizer in your handbag with you, or have one just at every sink wherever you wash your hands.

It is a good idea to make a portable one that can be carried wherever you go.

A little travel container from a drug store will easily work!

For your hands, I recommend a really thick cream because lighter lotions (like what you use on your face) will not cut it right now. Lighter products are higher in water content and thus higher in pH.

Look for a hand cream, lotion, balm or butter that has more plant oils in it.

Specifically, review the ingredients list to confirm that plant-based oils and butters are as close to the top of the ingredient list as possible. Water-containing ingredients (like aloe vera) should sit below them.

And like I said, I really do recommend choosing ones that are naturally anti-microbial such as Tamanu, Neem, and Black seed oil.

I should mention that Shea butter also has natural anti-microbial properties and is commonly seen in your hand creams and hand-balms.

(JEN ADDS: Avoid coconut oil on your hands especially right now… it isn’t well absorbed and can be irritating to already irritated hands.)

Bee's wax, candelilla wax or carnauba wax are other good ingredients to look for as well because they help to fortify the skin's natural barrier.

Look for products called lotion sticks! They're really just thicker balms.

They often end up looking like a deodorant stick or chapstick. These are just oils, butters, and waxes.

A little bit goes a really long way when it comes to lotion sticks. They provide nourishment to the skin in the form of essential fatty acids and oil-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. Plus they help fortify the skin's barrier by putting on a nice layer to help seal in moisture and add protection.

Actually, these are things that you can easily make yourself especially if you want something with a limited number of ingredients due to sensitivities and allergies.

You can also make your own oil blends, hand butter, and thicker balms too!

And I have a free class on my website called Boutique Skin Care Basics. In this class, you'll learn how to make your own oil blend and, what I call, a whipped souffle.

I’ve got an additional class HERE that is for your hands and making products geared towards hand care in this excessive handwashing environment.


JEN: Rachael, I have to say that we all appreciate you taking the time out of your super busy schedule to share this information when we need it the most!

If you wanna go check out Rachael's website, visit her at https://rachaelpontillo.com/.

Got any questions or thoughts on this episode? Leave them below so we can keep the conversation going!

And please — share this episode with everyone you know.

The people in our community suffering with skin rashes and their skin is just so beaten down with all of this hand washing.

Everyone else you know needs this too! Even my mother (who doesn't have rash issues at all) — her hands are super, super, super dried out from all of this hand washing.

Thank you so much for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode!

Commercial or conventional soap products made with petro-chemicals, like mineral oil, will strip away your skin’s natural oils.

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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