So You're Washing Your Hands A Lot

Covid-19 can be sung to the tune of Come On Eileen

My wild dreams of sending out a regularly scheduled newsletter have come crashing down around my ears in 2020, sorry, but I do try to get into your inbox with the BURNING QUESTIONS OF OUR TIME and right now, everyone is freaking out in a big way over the corona virus and I figured you need to hear from me in these trying times.

Here are the relevant points:

  1. Remain calm and reasonable

  2. Don’t be racist

  3. Wash your damn hands

And while I’m technically only here to discuss the fallout from Point 3 with you, I would like to take this opportunity to stress that the above three points should be your default setting at all times, not just during a pandemic. (Although please note: if a motherfucker ever actually says “be calm and reasonable” to me, you may as well say “please garrote me with a piano wire while calmly and reasonably relishing my failing limbs and gurgling sounds”, so maybe just make a mental note that Point 1 should remain a part of our inner monologues, thanks.)

Since I like to think of you all as extremely hygienic and conscientious of others’ well-being, let’s assume your hands are being thoroughly cleansed more than usual these days and as a result, are possibly in some distress. As I said many times in the cleansing opus, washing is the most damaging thing we have to do to our skin regularly, as it’s an assault on the lipid barrier (the magic forcefield that keeps skin happy.) So anyone who washes their hands a ton will likely need to Take Measures to avoid extreme discomfort.

Let’s discuss.

Don’t Fuck Around

Please wash your hands correctly. Scrub under the nails, get between the fingers, lather it all up for a full 20-30 seconds. As previously mentioned, the repeated chorus of TLC’s smash hit single No Scrubs is my personal favorite thing to sing as I lather. Feel free to join me now in a blank 45-second stare at the realization that that song is old enough to legally drink in all 50 American states now.

It should be noted that hand sanitizers (good luck finding em) are no better than soap and often times even harder on the lipid barrier, no matter what they say about aloe. OMG who else remembers the old Palmolive commercials?? When Madge tried to sell us dishwashing liquid as a moisturizing agent! AMAZING.

Oh Madge, you card.

Anyway, alcohol-based sanitizers when you’re on the move are fine, but soap and water are where it’s at. A soap with a low pH and some moisturizers is a very helpful thing - like, a bar of Dove is strong enough to get your hands clean but is also less likely to dry your nails into brittle little shattering health hazards.

But I’m gonna leave the cleaning to you. My contribution here has to do with the consequences of the cleaning.

Prevention, a.k.a. Lotion

First, try not to wait until your hands are chapped and cracked and sad little meat-mitts before getting serious about moisturization. It’s all about prevention. This means putting lotion on your hands even when they don’t feel particularly dry. People never believe me and always think they can get away with the occasional dab when they feel like it. Fools. What is this, summer in the tropics? (Answer: NO IT IS MOST ASSUREDLY NOT.)

My method, which I preach every year in the pre-winter hydration stock-up season, is to have one great day lotion for repetitive use, and one heavy night lotion. That’s it. Easy. Just do it. DO IT.

Here are some suggestions on best practices when carrying out these moisturization marching orders:

Day Lotion should be kept next to the sink and in a pump-style bottle and look, trust me on this. The psychology of having to flip open and squeeze a tube vs having to push down on a thingie? It’s a huge thing. I don’t know why, but every human I know is ~700x more likely to use a lotion if it’s in a pump. Don’t fight your brain, okay, just make it easy and put a lotion in a pump next to the sink where you most often wash your hands. (It’s the bathroom, right? It should be the bathroom. Unless you’re a professional dishwasher or similar.) Also have a wee tube of the day-lotion in your bag, if you carry a bag. You probably already do, but just make sure it’s one you actually use, okay? Okay.

The most important quality of a day lotion is that it’s both effective AND soaks in easily without leaving a greasy residue. This can be remarkably hard to find, and I recommend taking full advantage of the travel sizes at your local Target or drugstore. Get one of each wee bottle and see which works for you. I am personally a fan of

OF COURSE the CeraVe is the one I love the most and is my personal choice to last me through the winter desert. Buy it with the pump the first time, then save the pump to plonk into the replacement jar for years to come. Please note that a whole pump’s worth is way too much for your hands, so go easy. You can use it on your whole body, including your face (if your face doesn’t hate it, of course) and it’s just got really good, restorative ingredients. And that’s what frequently-washed skin needs: restorative ingredients.

Night Lotion is where you get your emollient on (that is too a saying.) You keep it at your bedside and it is absolutely essential to put it on your hands every night without fail, even if you just put your day lotion on 10 minutes ago. This is where you want the heavy, the greasy, the big guns - because you’ll have hours without touching your phone or keyboard or book. (Bed partners can be touched but, like…I will leave that to your discretion, okay.)

Lotions I like for nighttime include:

Look for creams with shea butter and lanolin and petrolatum. Keep it by your bedside. If things are really bad, chronically desert-dry, get a pair of cotton gloves to put on after slathering your hands in a thick coat of the stuff.

Fingernails and cuticles can be appeased by an offering of oil every night, if you want to keep that by the bed, too. I keep argan oil at the bedside table to rub into my nails sometimes. Other oils that are good for nails include olive, coconut, sweet almond, and vitamin E.


If shit’s gone bad - as in, actual cracked and/or chapped skin - you need a healing ointment. Both CeraVe and Aquaphor do great ones that can also be used on your lips. (If you’re Australian and don’t have sensitive skin, try Lucas Paw Paw Ointment.) Be patient. It’s usually the skin around the fingernails that gets raw like that, so definitely cover it in a bandaid while it heals.

A great home DIY treatment - a homemade hand-mask, if you will is this:

- Slather hands in a thick layer of heavy lotion
- Grease em up with some kind of oil (olive, coconut, whatever you got)
- Wrap em in plastic (saran wrap or just a couple of baggies)
- Put a nice hot towel over them, like you’re in First Class
- Leave it like that for at least 10 minutes, but preferably 30 or more, like leave it for so long that there’ve been 12 Twitter blow-ups that have come and gone and you never even knew it, my god the liberation of not being able to use your fingers!

A quicker version of that:

- Slather damp (not wet) hands in Vaseline
- Wrap em in a damp, hot towel for as long as you can stand it
- Wipe off excess Vaseline, move on with your life

Also, if your dry skin is tending towards the itchy, oatmeal is honest to god just a lovely thing for that. Make a bowl of extremely soupy oatmeal (grind it up in a food processor if you can, then just like a tablespoon of the oats for every cup of water), maybe add some honey if you got it, plunge your hands in there til it cools, then rinse em off. Godspeed.

That’s all I have to say on the subject, I think. OH EXCEPT CLEAN THE LOTION BOTTLES. Not obsessively, just every once in a while, give the pump/tube a once over with a bleach wipe or whatever. Same goes for your phone, ya filthy animals, you know it’s dirtier than your porn stash.

Hygienic Hugs,