People who excessively wash their hands may notice that their skin is excessively dry or cracking. This may cause symptoms similar to eczema, such as itchy, dry skin and skin discoloration.

This article explores the different eczema types and symptoms. It also discusses whether overwashing the hands can cause eczema and the treatment options available for people with the condition.

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Eczema refers to a group of long lasting skin conditions that may affect any part of the body. Without treatment, it can increase the risk of recurring infections. Both genetics and environmental factors play their part in a person developing eczema.

Eczema often begins in childhood and typically causes:

Eczema types

There are multiple forms of eczema that exist, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis: This type causes extremely itchy rashes that typically develop when a child turns 5 years of age.
  • Contact dermatitis: This type of eczema results from something that makes contact with a person’s skin and irritates it or causes an allergic reaction. A person may experience itchy skin, a rash, or blisters.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: This form of eczema causes small, itchy blisters on the hands or feet. Products, such as soap and shampoo, stress, sweat, and increasing temperatures, may trigger this eczema type.
  • Hand eczema: This type of eczema results in dry, thick, and scaly skin on the hands. A person may also experience deep, painful cracks in the hands that bleed and a burning sensation.
  • Neurodermatitis: This type of eczema results in itchy skin that may lead to itchy patches. This may develop on the arms, legs, back of the neck, scalp, or groin area.
  • Nummular eczema: This type of eczema causes itchy, raised spots on the skin that may have a round or oval shape. The spots may grow together to form larger, raised patches.
  • Stasis dermatitis: This type of eczema usually develops in people with blood circulation issues. It typically occurs in the lower legs and near the ankles but may also occur in other areas.

Eczema symptoms

Eczema symptoms may vary depending on the type a person is experiencing. General symptoms of eczema include:

  • itching, which may be severe
  • dry, red patches on light skin
  • dry, darker brown, purple, or gray patches on darker skin
  • rashes that may ooze or bleed
  • skin thickening and hardening

These symptoms may occur in multiple areas of the body at the same time and may also occur in new locations with each flare-up.

Generally, most people will not develop eczema from washing their hands. However, frequent hand hygiene practices may cause changes in the texture of the skin, causing it to become extremely dry or irritated.

If these skin changes develop further, a person may develop hand eczema or contact dermatitis if the soap or product they use causes skin irritation.

Additionally, someone who already has eczema may notice that their symptoms worsen due to frequent handwashing.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following tips to reduce the risk of eczema flare-ups after frequent handwashing:

  • wash the hands using lukewarm water and soap for at least 20 seconds
  • apply moisturizers to the hands immediately after washing
  • apply moisturizers that contain petrolatum or mineral oil
  • avoid moisturizers that contain fragrances or dyes to prevent irritation

Although there is no cure for eczema, the main ways of managing it include hydrating the skin and applying topical anti-inflammatory medication. A healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist, can help a person develop a treatment plan to help manage their condition.

A dermatologist may recommend:

  • taking baths
  • applying moisturizers
  • treating skin gently

A dermatologist may also suggest phototherapy if the above treatment options are ineffective or if the eczema covers a large area of a person’s body. This treatment involves exposing the skin to UV light and may help reduce inflammation and itchiness.

A person’s treatment plan may also include topical medications for application to the skin. Some of these may include one or more of the following:

These topical medications may help reduce inflammation and itchiness of the skin. Topical calcineurin inhibitors may also help reduce the presence of certain bacteria on the skin and may help prevent infections.

A healthcare professional may also prescribe ruxolitinib cream, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved.

Other treatments include biologic drugs such as dupilumab and tralokinumab-ldrm, which are injectable, and oral Janus kinase inhibitors such as abrocitinib and upadacitinib.

Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause symptoms, including itchy, red, and irritated skin in lighter skin or darker brown, purple, or gray patches on irritated, darker skin. Other symptoms of eczema include rashes that may bleed and skin thickening.

Different types of eczema include atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and hand eczema.

Overwashing the hands may cause skin changes that may lead to a person’s skin becoming extremely dry and irritated. In some people, this may lead to contact dermatitis. Someone with eczema may experience flare-ups from excessive handwashing.

Management options for eczema include hydration with moisturizers and medications such as corticosteroids, crisaborole ointment, or coal tar. A dermatologist may recommend phototherapy if previous eczema treatment is ineffective.