Frequent hand-washing and glove-changing have always been essential principles of nursing hygiene. During the current pandemic, with its attendant need for PPE and heightened precautions all around, those practices make our hands even more prone to drying, chapping, and cracking than in a normal hospital environment.
The American Society of Dermatology offers helpful advice for hand care: Wash your hands in warm, not hot, water; dry thoroughly; then apply a moisturizer that contains petrolatum or mineral oil. Choose fragrance-free products, as the alcohol in fragrances can be drying.
Medical gloves can be especially problematic. Many people are allergic to latex, leading to contact dermatitis and other skin reactions. Nitrile or vinyl gloves don’t pose an allergic hazard but can still cause sweating and chapping if worn too long before changing. If your hospital provides glove liners, be sure to use them or buy your own from a medical supply shop or online. And be sure to remove your gloves periodically to give your skin a chance to breathe.
If your hands become severely chapped with frequent exposure to water and chemicals, after washing your with a mild soap at bedtime, apply a generous layer of Vaseline or another petrolatum-based product (Mane ‘n’ Tail Hoofmaker and Bag Balm are popular ones, not just for the barnyard anymore!), then put on disposable cotton gloves to keep the product on the skin rather than onto your bed linens. When the irritation has healed, you can resume nightly hand care with a good alcohol-free moisturizer/emollient product that absorbs into the skin.
Above all, keep your hands hydrated…from the inside out. Be sure to drink plenty of noncaffeinated fluids throughout your shift. If your hospital has rules or regulatory issues around bringing beverages onto the floor, prepare your own and store it in your locker or another secure place. Your hands will give you a big round of applause for your performance!