Allergic Reactions to Hand Washing

Hand-washing is important for many reasons. It prevents contamination of food and reduces the transmission of infections. Many people, such as health care workers, wash their hands multiple times a day. As a result, they can develop a rash on their hands. Up to 30 percent of healthcare workers develop hand rashes as a result of repetitive hand-washing.

There are steps you can take to treat and prevent a rash on your hands. And you can do it without sacrificing your hygiene.

This article is a general discussion of the most common causes of hand rashes. It explains the different illnesses that can cause a hand rash. It also discusses the symptoms of overwashing your hands and what happens when you have a soap allergy.

Is Hand Washing Giving You a Rash?

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Most Common Causes of Hand Rashes

A rash from hand washing usually occurs on the back of the hands. It can affect the spaces between the fingers too. The skin on the palms is much thicker and more resistant to irritants and allergic rashes.

For people who wash their hands with soap multiple times a day, hand rashes are usually caused by an irritant effect or an allergy. Warm or hot water can contribute to the irritant effect on the skin as well.

While hand rashes are often caused by washing your hands too much, other things can cause hand rashes too.

Many people blame hand rashes on alcohol-based hand cleansers. But these agents rarely cause skin rashes. Alcohol-based hand cleansers may cause burning and stinging. It usually only happens on skin that's already broken and irritated.

Symptoms of Hand Rashes

Woman with rash after washing hands too much

aerogondo / Getty Images

Hand rashes may occur throughout the year. They are often worse during the dry, cold winter months. You may also notice them when you have been washing your hands more often or when you use certain products.

Healthcare workers are just a small sample of people who wash their hands repeatedly. Continuous hand-washing often causes skin irritation. People who get rashes from repetitive hand-washing or overwashing hands may experience:

  • Redness
  • Flaking
  • Blister formation
  • Cracking
  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Chronic skin thickening

Symptoms of Bites and Stings

Sometimes insect bites and stings can cause a hand rash. Most insect bites and stings come from honeybees, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps. Fire ants also contribute to many insect bites in the United States. If an insect bites or stings you, here are the most common symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Pain

Some people may experience serious allergic reactions to insect bites. They may have the following:

  • Hives, swelling, and pain in areas other than the body part where the insect stung you
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in the tongue
  • Hoarse voice
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

A severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis may also occur. This requires immediate medical attention. People that know they are highly allergic to insect stings should carry an Epi-pen with them at all times.

Symptoms of Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is a skin rash illness. It's pretty common in children, but adults can get it too. You will usually experience mild symptoms. These symptoms include:

Some people with Fifth disease will also experience swollen and painful joints. Joint pain usually lasts no longer than one to three weeks.

Symptoms of Impetigo

Sometimes your skin rash may be caused by a skin infection called impetigo. It's caused by the bacteria group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus. When this kind of bacteria infects your skin, it causes sores.

Anyone can get impetigo, but mostly young children will have this type of skin infection. The main symptom is red, itchy sores that appear on the skin. Eventually, the sores leak pus or a clear liquid before forming scabs. Fortunately, the scabs do not leave scars.

Symptoms of Soap Allergy

Sometimes you can be allergic to the soap you use. If you have a soap allergy, you may experience:

Changing the soap you use will help get rid of these symptoms. Using a mild soap is one way to combat a soap allergy. Then you can use a medicated skin cream to help soothe your irritated skin. Your doctor can also prescribe an oral medication or cream to help with the itchiness as well.

Symptoms of Overwashing Hands

When you're overwashing your hands, you experience a variety of symptoms. They include:

  • Dry skin
  • Red skin
  • Flaking skin
  • Itching skin
  • Cracked skin

You can prevent these symptoms by using a mild, fragrance-free soap. Use warm, not hot, water whenever you wash your hands. After you gently pat your hands dry with a towel, apply a moisturizing cream.

When using a hand sanitizer, use one that has a moisturizing base. This will help soothe your skin. The downside is that this type of hand sanitizer won't be as effective at killing viruses.

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a skin condition where your skin becomes red, sore, and inflamed. The irritation occurs because your skin comes in direct contact with a particular substance. There are two types of contact dermatitis. They are irritant dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant dermatitis is caused when the skin reacts to friction or an irritating substance. Keep reading to learn more about allergic dermatitis.

Symptoms of Allergic Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin touches something that causes you to have an allergic reaction. When you have allergic dermatitis you get an itchy, red rash. Substances that may cause an allergic reaction include:

  • Fragrances
  • Cosmetics
  • Jewelry metals

Your doctor can help you figure out if your skin rash is related to allergic dermatitis.

Symptoms of Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis

Eczema is a common skin condition, also known as atopic dermatitis. It affects around 15 million Americans. When you have eczema, you may have the following symptoms:

  • Itchy skin
  • Dry skin
  • Red skin
  • Scaly or bumpy patches of skin
  • Crusting skin

People with eczema can treat their condition by using cortisone creams to soothe the skin. Try applying moisturizing creams and ointments too. Avoiding harsh soaps will also help soothe your skin. Look for soaps that are fragrance-free, Use soaps that have no alcohol, dyes, or fragrances as well. Your doctor can help you find other ways to treat your eczema.

Symptoms of Fungal Infection

The world is full of fungi. Fungi are organisms that live in the air and on the ground. Some kinds of fungi can cause skin infections. Symptoms of fungal infection on the skin include:

  • Red skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Flaking skin
  • Swelling

You can prevent fungal infections by keeping your skin clean and dry. Wear sandals when using a public shower, public pool, or locker room. If you get a fungal infection on your skin, your doctor will prescribe an anti-fungal medication.

Symptoms of Drug Allergy

Some people's immune systems are sensitive to certain drugs. It doesn't matter if the drug is in the form of a pill, liquid, or injection. The medicine causes some people to have an allergic reaction. Common symptoms of a drug allergy include:

If you know you have a drug allergy, make sure your doctors know about it. Wear a medical necklace or bracelet so that other people know you are allergic to the drug. Ask your doctor about similar drugs that you should avoid taking as well.

Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a highly contagious sickness that is common among children under the age of 5. But anyone can get the sickness. Symptoms include:

  • Painful sores on the mouth
  • Skin rash that's usually on the palms and soles of feet but can appear on other parts of the body as well
  • Fever
  • Sore throat

Usually, symptoms are mild. You can treat hand, foot, and mouth disease at home. But if a fever lasts for more than three days, you should contact your doctor. You should also contact your doctor if symptoms are severe or last for more than 10 days. It's always a good idea to contact your pediatrician if you think your child has hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Symptoms of Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease, also known as Kawasaki syndrome, is a sickness that usually affects kids 5 years old and younger. It affects mostly boys. Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include:

  • Fever
  • Skin rash
  • Irritation and inflammation around the mouth, lips, and throat
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Redness in the white part of the eyes
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck

Kawasaki disease is a medical condition that can lead to serious heart problems. Doctors treat Kawasaki disease with intravenous medication or medication that is sent directly to your veins. The treatment helps prevent heart complications.

Treatment of Hand Rashes

Treatment of hand-washing rashes often involves moisturizing, such as at the end of a work shift and before bed. Ointment-based moisturizers, such as Aquaphor, are especially effective. Other over-the-counter products that can be effective are those that are specifically labeled for dry hands. Make sure to use a moisturizer that doesn't cause additional irritation.

Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments may also be used. They are effective treatments for severe or persistent contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, or dyshidrotic dermatitis.

Treatment of Allergic Reactions

Substances that cause allergic reactions are called allergens. If you have an allergic reaction to an allergen, there are several ways to treat it. The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to stay away from the substance you are allergic to. But that's not always possible. The following are some ways to treat an allergic reaction:

Treatment of Skin Infection

Germs can cause a skin infection. This is because when you have a cut or wound, various kinds of germs may enter your body. Common symptoms may include a rash, skin redness, pain, swelling, itching, and pus. Sometimes skin infections go away on their own.

But sometimes you need your doctor to prescribe a medication, lotion, or cream for your skin. In some cases, your doctor may need to drain the pus.

Over the Counter Treatment for Hand Rash

You can often treat a hand rash with over-the-counter medicines. These medications can help with any itchiness and discomfort until your rash goes away. Make sure you follow the directions on the medication label before you use it. Common over-the-counter treatments for hand rash include:

When to See a Doctor About a Rash on the Hands

Most rashes go away on their own. But sometimes you may need to see a doctor for that rash on your hand. If you are an adult, see a doctor about your rash if:

  • The rash is located all over your entire body
  • The rash appears suddenly and quickly spreads over your body
  • You have a fever as well as a rash
  • The rash is full of blisters
  • The rash hurts
  • The rash is infected

If a child has a skin rash, take your child to the pediatrician if:

  • The skin turns lighter when you press on the rash
  • Your child has hives
  • The rash is infected
  • The rash has fluid-filled bubbles

Make sure to avoid touching your face and eyes with moisturizer. Some moisturizers can cause red eyes, tearing, or breakouts on your face.

How to Prevent Hand Rashes

The prevention of hand rashes includes reducing the irritant effects of repetitive hand-washing. Hand-washing with soap and water is important when the hands are visibly dirty. But this isn't the best way to disinfect your hands if it causes you to develop a rash.

Alcohol-based cleansers should be used when disinfection is the goal. They cause less irritation on the skin than the repetitive use of soap and water. When using these products, it's important that you rinse well before handling food.

If soap-based cleansers cause you to develop a rash, you can use alcohol-based hand cleansers as an alternative to soap. And if your hands feel dry, consider applying a moisturizer to prevent chapping and cracking.

Summary

If you're someone who repeatedly washes your hands, you can end up with an irritating skin rash. Sometimes you can even be allergic to the type of soap you're using. But other things can cause a hand rash too. There are various illnesses that cause hand rashes. Insect bites can also cause skin rashes. If you have a severe skin rash or serious symptoms that go along with it, contact your doctor right away.

A Word From Verywell

When you get a rash on your hands, it's uncomfortable and itchy. Overwashing your hands could be the reason you have that rash. But hand rashes may also show up because you have a soap allergy. In some cases, your hand rash is caused by a medical condition. If you're worried about a rash that's on your hands, contact your doctor so you can find relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a soap allergy look like:

    When you have a soap allergy, your skin becomes inflamed, dry, and cracked. Lighter skin may redden. Darker skin tones may appear gray, dark brown, or purple.

  • Why do my hands keep getting rashes?

    You keep getting hand rashes for a variety of reasons. For example, if your skin constantly comes into contact with cleaning fluids or industrial chemicals, you may get a hand rash. You may be allergic to the soap you use on a daily basis. Some people have a condition called eczema, which causes a rash as well.

  • How long does it take for a skin allergic reaction to go away?

    Mild skin allergic reactions usually go away after a few days or weeks. But if your rash sticks around for a long time, call a doctor. You should also call your doctor if the rash is extremely uncomfortable or located on your face.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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