It’s flu season and the need to wash your hands is at an all time high to ensure safety from the flu and the norovirus. I personally tend to wash my hands more than the average guy because I believe that washing your hands often is key in preventing sickness. I looked into whether washing your hands often helps you or actually hurts you and what soaps are best to clean your hands.
During the winter months my hands get extremely dry and it causes a great deal of pain and washing my hands often just makes the effects worse. I researched the effects of washing your hands too frequently and the results were a bit frightening. “Repeated washings, especially with soaps containing sodium lauryl sulfate or other compounds, can trigger hand dermatitis–particularly in dry climates like our own.” (Yeates) Dermatitis is marked by scaling, redness, itching and burning and can take months to heal. I wonder if my repeated hand washing causes Dermatitis in my hands or if it is just really dry skin.
60 healthcare workers at a University Hospital’s Case Medical Center in Cleveland were monitored in an observational study where they washed their hands 10 times daily and 63 percent of those 60 contracted Dermatitis. So clearly there are some downsides when trying to stay clean during flu season. Kristen Dascomb recommends “alcohol-based products not only [to] kill the germs but also [to] have emollients in them that help enhance the moisture in the skin,”.
This brings up the issue of what kind of soaps to use because some are actually making people more sick. Soaps such as antibiotic soaps work less effectively than regular soaps and actually increase frequencies of fevers, runny noses and coughs. Soaps like these have Triclosan which kills weak bacteria but favors the tolerant bacteria.
Along with worrying about the flu this year we also have to worry about the harmful effects of trying to prevent the flu and how we do it. The soaps we use can be extremely unsafe and washing our hands can cause Dermatitis which is painful and doesn’t heal for months. Be careful this winter and get the flu shot!