Hand Hygiene

Hand Hygiene to Keep the Skin Barrier Intact

The skin is a barrier to protect the body from exposure to harmful irritants and disease–causing germs. Healthy skin is "intact" skin. This means the skin is free from nicks, cuts, scrapes, cracks, and rashes. Skin damage decreases the skin's ability to act as a protective barrier. Dry skin is susceptible to damage.

It is important to prevent dry skin. Germs can attach more easily to dry skin. And open areas may allow entry of germs into our bodies. In spite of many factors beyond our control, some choices may help to keep our skin barrier intact:

  • Wash hands with warm, not hot, water.
  • Pat skin dry rather than rubbing.
  • Wear protective gloves when handling chemicals or cleaning agents.
  • Choose hand products that are dermatologist–tested for mildness.
  • Use hand moisutizers often, preferably when skin is damp.
  • Avoid leaving soap on your hands, as it dries the skin.

Thousands of germs can survive around and under fingernails. Be sure to clean areas under fingernails if they are visibly dirty. Pay special attention to these areas when you wash or use alcohol hand rubs for cleaning hands.

Freshly–applied nail polish does not increase the number of germs present. But chipped nail polish may harbor germs. Persons with artificial nails are more likely to have more germs under and around nails than those who don't wear them.

Treating Dry Skin

Sometimes, in spite of the most preventive efforts, dry skin occurs. Symptoms of dry skin may include flaking, redness, itching, or cracking. Several ideas for treating dry skin include:

  • Adding moisture to skin by soaking in warm water. Then apply lotions that contain water or humectants—ingredients such as glycerin that attract and hold moisture in the skin.
  • Wearing light cotton gloves for several hours or overnight after the above steps.
  • Using barrier creams sometime, although not proven to prevent skin irritation.
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CDC Hand Hygiene Brochure1.79 MB
Infection Control Tips on Handwashing46.37 KB
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