The Gentler Way to Kill Germs


Istockphoto IstockphotoYou wash them after every trip to the restroom, slather on germ-killing gels whenever possible, and still wonder if your heroic hand hygiene will ward off icky cold and flu bugs. The answer: probably. But your palms may get painfully chapped and dry. Here, how to avoid whats going around—and take care of your hands.

Soap and water
Best time to use:
Before meals and after using the bathroom; any time youve touched moist, germy surfaces

Washing hands at least 10 times a day may be the best way to keep the flu away, according to a recent Italian research review. Use regular soap and warm water, not hot, since its more drying and can lead to cracked skin, which ups infection risks, experts say. Dry with a disposable towel, using it to turn off the faucet.

After washing: Apply a hydrating lotion like O.P.I. Avoplex High-Intensity Hand & Nail Cream ($11.99). “You need a little grease to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out,” says dermatologist Barbara R. Reed, MD, of the University of Colorado Denver Hospital.

Hand sanitizers
Best time to use:
On-the-go; whenever a sink isnt handy

While hand-washing is your best defense, antibacterial gels cause less drying and irritation than soap and water, and kill 99.9% of germs, says Bill Rutala, PhD, professor of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina. Use products with at least 60% alcohol—anything less wont kill microbes. Fill the palm of one hand with sanitizer (enough so that your hand feels very wet) and vigorously rub both together, coating all parts of your hands. If theyre dry in 15 seconds, you havent used enough. Reapply often; the gel kills existing germs but wont prevent new ones from climbing aboard.

After applying: Use lotion if your hands are irritated. Another option: Try sanitizers that also contain moisturizers.