We know that medical experts recommend frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They also recommend wearing a mask when in public.

But what toll is all that scrubbing and the chemicals taking on your skin?

“My first recommendation, before your hands get irritated, is what choices do you make” asks Dr. Sarah Cely of Savannah River Dermatology. “If you have the choice between hand sanitizer and soap and water, I would recommend soap and water,” says Dr. Cely. She notes that washing your hands is less irritating than the alcohol in hand sanitizer.

Dr. Sarah Cely (right) works with her staff at Savannah River Dermatology.

Dr. Cely also says you don’t necessarily need antibacterial soap, a mild soap will do for getting bacteria and germs off your hands. She does recommend washing for at least 20 seconds, and making sure to wash the back of your hands.

“Another step would be moisturizing,” she adds. “A good daily hand cream several times a day will try to prevent irritation and drying out,” says Dr. Cely. She recommends using a moisturizer for your face as well.

Dr. Cely says to pay close attention to you skin for any irritations. “Once they are cracked or irritated, it is important to watch for secondary signs of infection because the cracked, open skin is at risk for bacterial infections when touching objects,” says Dr. Cely.

Learning how to properly wear your mask will help prevent it from irritating the skin on your face and ears.

“As our office is open and we’re seeing lots of patients, I’m doing a lot of mask education,” added Dr. Cely. “Lots of people don’t know how to wear a mask. It’s so innate for us in the medical field, but I’ve seen masks upside down, inside out, with the headband on the earpiece,” she says.

“So it’s important it fits and the better it fits the less irritating it will be on the pressure points on the cheeks,” added Dr. Cely.

Dr. Cely says you should try to wash your mask everyday using hot water and detergent.

“That is cumbersome and a lot of work, but it will harbor the virus if you don’t wash it daily,” she notes.

She also says you should be careful when taking your mask off and never grab it from the middle part in front your mouth. Instead remove it from the earpiece.

“You should never touch it there, that defeats the purpose of wearing a mask,” says Dr. Cely. “Because now you’ve just touched the dirtiest part on the mask. You need to remove it from the earpiece,” she said.