When I needed to improve my hand washing skills due to COVID-19, I reached out to the Backstreet Boys. The choir of their 1999 hit “I Want It That Way” took 20 seconds to sing. This is the time recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for proper hand washing.
Since the pandemic started in March last year, much attention has been paid to proper hand washing techniques and how few people wash their hands properly.
“After what often happens in public bathrooms, some people have forgotten what optimal hand washing is,” wrote Dr. Seema Bonney, founder and medical director of the Philadelphia Anti-Aging & Longevity Center and a member of the HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council, in an email. “Most people rush to wash their hands, skip using soap, don’t wet their hands, or dry them with an unclean towel.”
With COVID-19 rates soaring, National Handwashing Awareness Week, held December 1-7 this year, is a great time to brush up on how to wash your hands properly.
“Hand washing is by far the best way to avoid getting sick and preventing the spread of germs,” wrote Bonney.
History of hygiene
Until the late 19th century, people rarely bathed, although they did wash their faces and hands occasionally. King Louis XIV. Of France is said to have taken only two baths during his lifetime. Many people believed that washing opened pores, which allowed disease to enter the body.
This began to change in the middle of the 19th century when the Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis noticed the connection between poor hand washing techniques and the spread of diseases. It was around this time that the French scientist Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease, in which he speculated that tiny microorganisms called germs are responsible for human disease. (Microorganisms and bacteria were first observed in 1675 by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who is said to be the father of microbiology.)
British surgeon Joseph Lister used Pasteur’s research to use antiseptics during surgery in 1864 to reduce the spread of disease. In the 1890s, the germ theory was widely accepted by doctors and reformers who urged communities to make bathing more accessible to people in lower socio-economic classes.
While most Americans shower every day today, hand washing habits vary. A 2016 study found that women wash their hands more often than men. Surprisingly, medical providers have some of the worst habits: a 2014 study found their hand washing compliance rates were below 90%, and it wasn’t until April 2019 that the CDC found that health professionals shed their hands less than half wash the cases they should.
“I’ve had adults just stare at me when I talked about the need to wash their hands (by looking at hands that I know aren’t hand-washed frequently),” wrote Dr. Joyce Knestrick, a family nurse, associate professor at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, and a member of the HealthyWomen’s Women’s Health Advisory Council in an email. “I’m not sure if it’s a lack of education or just not embedded in their routines.”
Why hand washing is important
Here’s some good news: Hand washing rates have increased due to the pandemic; More and more people wash their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose. before eating in a restaurant; and before dinner at home.
“People are definitely viewing it as an afterthought. However, this pandemic is drawing attention to the importance of this simple action and how we cannot skip it!” Bonney wrote.
In addition to COVID-19, hand washing can help stop the spread of germs that cause diarrhea, respiratory infections, and even skin and eye infections.
“When we come into contact with germs like this coronavirus, we can unknowingly become infected by simply touching our eyes, nose or mouth,” wrote Bonney. “And as soon as we are infected, given the infectious nature of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, it is a matter of time before one of our contacts becomes infected with the same disease.”
Hand wash misconceptions
“Most people don’t wash their hands or wash between their fingers and clean their nails for 20 seconds,” Knestrick said, adding that people need to take off their jewelry to make sure they wash every surface.
Bonney said another common misconception is that hand sanitizers can replace hand washing with soap and water, although studies show otherwise.
“This is not a substitute for good old hand washing,” wrote Bonney.
Warm water is also not necessary. It may be more comfortable on your hands, but studies have shown that cold water is just as effective.
How to wash your hands
First, wet your hands, then lather them with soap and water. Scrub for a full 20 seconds, making sure to cover the back of your hands, wrists, each finger, and under your fingernails. Rinse your hands and dry them with a clean towel or paper towel, or let them air dry.
“Regular soap is fine; no antibacterial soap is needed,” wrote Bonney. “Some of the chemicals in antibacterial soap have actually been shown to be harmful.”
According to the Federal Drug Administration, many antibacterial soaps contain triclosan, which can make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Remember to moisturize
Don’t forget the final step of washing your hands: moistening.
Frequent hand washing can be harsh on the skin as it strips the skin of the epidermis, the outermost layer that protects your body and helps the skin retain its natural moisture.
“This natural barrier is broken down when soap is used to wash hands, which means that no distinction is made between unwanted oil, germs, debris and natural oils in the skin,” wrote Bonney. “Failure to apply hand cream can cause dryness, redness, itching, flaking, discomfort and, in severe cases, skin cracking.”
Bonney recommends avoiding scented lotions and moisturizers, as these can further irritate the skin, and using creams and ointments instead.
Foam for the common good
Washing hands may feel uncomfortable, but it’s a really easy way we can help ourselves, our family members, and society at large. And it only takes 20 seconds.