Your Hand-Washing Questions Answered

hand washing steps


We probably don’t need to review this in great detail, but — just in case you just got back from a months-long meditation retreat — there is a pandemic sweeping the globe. And not to sound too much like a helicopter parent, but one of the best things that you can do to keep yourself and others healthy is to wash your hands. The Centers for Disease Control has provided some specific hand-washing guidelines, which, by the way, you’re supposed to follow all the time, not just when we’re worried about a global health crisis. We also checked in with Dr. Marie Hayag, a dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics in New York City, to tell us everything we need to know about soap and hand-washing.

Is there any difference between using bar soap vs. liquid soap?

Soap is soap no matter the form. While I prefer to see liquid soaps available in restrooms at restaurants, doctors offices, and other public places; it is really a matter of preference. There are three essential ingredients needed to create an effective cleanser: oil (fat), water, and salt. As long as these are present in proper proportions, the specific formula and packaging don’t matter. What matters is for the person using the soap to be thorough in his or her washing technique. Make sure to use enough soap to work up a thick lather, then continue to vigorously lather for at least 20 seconds. I tell my patients to make it fun, sing your favorite part of “The Thong Song.”

Does using a hand and nail brush help? 

I would recommend it only if your hands are very soiled. When hand washing, friction is essential for effective cleaning, and the use of a hand and nail brush may be beneficial in high soil situations like after gardening.  Your nail and hand brush should have bristles that are non-absorbent, flexible enough to reach beneath the nail, and strong enough to provide effective cleaning. However, keep in mind using a brush that has firm bristles can potentially damage the skin and leave room for infection.  Most people do not carry a hand and nail brush around with them. Also, remember to remove all jewelry — like rings — which gets in the way of properly washing your hands.


Does the water temperature really matter?

The water temperature has no significant effect on reducing microbes under normal hand-washing conditions.  What really matters is the total time washing your hands — remember 20 seconds!  

Does using an antibacterial soap versus a regular soap really matter?

No.  There isn’t any evidence to show that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than just plain soap and water. Following the proper hand-washing technique with regular soap and water is the most effective way to prevent spread of infection.

There are also health concerns with the antibacterial ingredients. Triclosan, a common antibacterial ingredient, has been shown to alter some hormones in our body.  More research is needed to see how it affects humans.  Also, there is concern that triclosan can make bacteria more resistant to antibiotics.

Are there any natural antibacterial materials that actually work for hand soaps? 

Unfortunately, there is no truly proven natural material that work as an antibiotic hand soap. Lavender essential oil is often considered as a natural ingredient in soaps because there are claims that it has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and therapeutic properties. There is anecdotal evidence that showcases the biological activity of lavender oil, which may suggest its antibacterial properties; however, there is no substantial evidence that proves this to be true. While there is scientific evidence that lavender essential oil has the potential to be used as an antibacterial agent against pathogenic agents found in pet turtles, much of the evidence available has [been] shown to be inconclusive to suggest that lavender essential oil can act as a natural antibacterial when used as a hand wash.

However, this does not negate the existence of natural antibacterial materials. Garlic, for example, contains allicin which has been proven to provide antibacterial activity when digested. Also, honey is a natural antibacterial product that has been proven to fight against wound infections because of its high sugar content, acidity levels, and bacteriostatic factors when applied on topical wounds. Virgin coconut oil has also been proven to fight against a bacteria in the mouth called Streptococcus mutans, when gargled.

How much is too much? Is it okay to use a moisturizer?

With COVID-19, everyone needs to take precautions and hand washing is crucial to prevent infection. However, it is possible to wash hands too often.  If you over-wash your hands you may be killing healthy bacteria and removing a protective skin barrier on the hands, which can cause red, dry, and cracking skin.  This can make you vulnerable to illnesses since the protective skin barrier is stripped and fissures on the skin make it easier for diseases to be introduced.

In order to combat the consequences of frequent hand washing, people should use moisturizers, or hand creams after washing hands. Make sure to apply them right after washing your hands, since moisturizers have properties that give and retain hydration to the skin to prevent dryness and aid as a barrier. Look for hand creams with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, dimethicone, petrolatum, and shea butter.

Our Favorite Hand Soaps

Beast Blue Hand Wash


You’ve heard us singing the praises of Beast’s Tame the Beast Nut Butter, but we’re also excited about this exfoliating scrub. Lava rock helps keep hands extra clean, and it’s pretty great for your feet, too. 


Dr. Bronner’s 4-in-1 Lemongrass Lime


Doc Bronner has always given a bit of a hippy-dippy vibe to its products with its “All-One” message, but in this case it’s a little more literal: Keep the soap’s handy pump dispenser by the sink to keep those hands fresh and clean, but the product can be used in the shower as a body wash and shampoo.


Duluth Trading Spit & Polish Hand Scrub


Made with hard-working’ folks in mind, workwear company Duluth Trading created this scrub to remove grease and grime. Walnut hulls and volcanic pumice are combined with coconut oil, cocoa butter, Vitamin E, and more, to really blast hands clean, while keeping them fresh and moisturized. 


Oversoyed Tobacco Bourbon Natural Antiseptic


This organic hand soap will take you back to relaxing evenings with a fine glass of Kentucky’s finest and a good pipeful of tobacco, even if you’re just starting your day. The smoky fragrance includes coconut oil extracts with antiseptic properties to help damaged skin. It’s also concentrated, so a little goes a long way. 


Duke Cannon Great American Beer Soap


Well, what can we say, but, “when you say Budweiser, you’ve said it all?” Duke Cannon, manufacturer of Budweiser, brings the Great American Beer into this Great American Beer Soap to keep Americans clean. It’s a solid, large-size bar, for large hands, and while, yes, it really does have Budweiser in the mix, you won’t wreak like you just rolled out of a dive bar or frat party. The soap only includes the beer’s antioxidant properties, and it actually smells like warm Cedarwood. 


UpCircle Chocolate Charcoal Chai Soap Bar


We’ve always been a fan of charcoal soaps because the black bar looks so great in a man’s bathroom, and because of the way charcoal draws out toxins. UpCircle also adds cacao to this bar soap to brighten skin, along with chai spices for an earthy fragrance.


Mayron’s Good+Supply Charcoal and Bentonite


Another charcoal favorite, Mayron adds Bentonite clay to help draw out toxins and nourish your skin, great for your daily hand-washing routine. The Bentonite makes it particularly great as a facial cleanser that fights oily skin and acne.