Is it possible to wash your hands too much?

A recent survey by College Rover has been making the rounds after it revealed that more than half of college students wash their hands more than 10 times per day. Of the more than 1,000 students surveyed, 45% said they were "hyperconscious" of germs, something that several infectious disease experts attributed to habits developed during the pandemic.

Despite some of the hand-wringing, health experts seem to agree that washing your hands 10 times a day — or even more — is not cause for alarm.

“You are not going to wash away good bacteria,” William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, told the Huffington Post. “I’m not concerned about folks who are committed hand washers; I’m concerned about the many who still avoid hand-washing.”

Hand washing is circumstantial. You should always wash your hands before preparing food, before eating, when caring for someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea, before treating a cut or wound, after using the toilet, after changing diapers, after blowing your nose or sneezing/coughing into your hands, after touching an animal or its waste, after handling pet food and after touching garbage.

Failing to do so usually presents a greater risk than doing so, even if it’s dozens of times a day.

Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, told the Post that the only concern is dry hands. "With the loss of natural oils, you lose the barrier function of the skin, and you might tend to get very dry skin or even irritated, inflamed to dry skin with dermatitis," she explained. Regular application of hand lotions and/or moisturizers is generally sufficient to offset this.

Now, there are certain scenarios where excessive hand-washing can point to an underlying issue— where concerns about getting sick begins to interfere with daily life.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by an irrational fear of germs or contaminants which leads to extreme or ritualized cleaning. In these cases, one therapist told the Post, it may lead to social isolation, agoraphobia, depression, family conflict, cracked or bleeding hands, excessive dry or peeling skin, and, oddly enough, infections.

If you feel this applies to you, visit the International OCD Foundation website to learn more about OCD and determine if it’s worth seeking an evaluation from a professional.

But in the vast majority of cases, it’s better to wash your hands than not.

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