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If You’re Overwashing Your Hands, You’ll Need Vaseline

3 min read

Here's why an expert swears by the classic standby for dry skin.

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been at a loss. My hands are chronically dry and no lotion I have in my home has seemed to help. My body has been getting weird rough patches like on my elbows and hips. My feet look like flaky hooves. Spending so much time inside has really thrown my body, and especially my skin, into a tailspin.

Figuring out how to keep your skin moisturized and protected can be a struggle when you're overwashing. However, you don't need to splurge on the fanciest, most expensive skincare products, according to Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.

“Most people may already have one of the best skin care products on the market in their homes,” he told me. “Vaseline petroleum jelly is truly a jack of all trades.” At his urging, I dug a jar of Vaseline out of the depths of my medicine cabinet and a lightbulb went off. There’s a reason this stuff has been around for 150 years. It just works, plain and simple.

During certain periods like cold season, wintertime outdoor activities, or when we’re washing our hands more than usual, “the skin barrier may become disrupted leading to irritation and dryness,” says Zeichner. “Purified petroleum forms a protective seal over the skin that keeps hydration in and environmental exposures like microbes out.”

 That, he says, is why Vaseline can be used “from your nose to your toes” to treat everything from cracked hands to chapped lips to crusty feet. It can even be useful in wound healing. “While it does not have any direct microbial benefits, it can protect an open wound from the environment to prevent infection,” he says. “It can also create a low oxygen environment to help the wound heal.”

My biggest issue with Vaseline is that I always found it slightly heavy and greasy and, because of that, only saw it as a last resort rather than something I would use every day. That problem, according to Dr. Zeichner, probably lies in user error: I was using too much of it. “If you’re using Vaseline on a large surface area, apply several dots of the product to the skin, then connect the dots and rub it in,” he says.

 “Applying a large glob and trying to spread it will be much more difficult and likely leave your skin feeling greasy.” Apparently, Vaseline is the ultimate “a little goes a long way” type of thing and using more isn’t necessarily the best plan.

At his urging, I dipped into my old tub and put a few dots of product on my hands; they instantly felt more moisturized and comfortable. I put some on my lips; classic but definitely works. 

I even tried something I’d heard about from my grandmother: I smeared some Vaseline on my feet, slid on some socks, and slept in it overnight. By morning, there was not a dry spot to be seen. You can also do this with your hands and wear gloves, which I have not done because I hate the idea of sleeping in gloves, but I recommended it to a friend who saw an immediate difference in his overwashed hands.

Source: If You’re Overwashing Your Hands, You’ll Need VaselineMensHealth.com, 3/28/20

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