The effect of washing and drying practices on skin barrier function

J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2008 Jan-Feb;35(1):84-90. doi: 10.1097/01.WON.0000308623.68582.d7.


Purpose: The aim of this study was to explore the potential contribution to skin damage caused by standard washing and drying techniques used in nursing.

Design: An experimental cohort design was used, with healthy volunteers (n = 15) receiving 6 different washing and drying techniques to the volar aspect of the forearm. Subjects underwent 3 washing and drying techniques on each arm; each technique was repeated twice, separated by a 2-hour rest period.

Methods: Skin integrity was assessed by measuring transepidermal water loss (TEWL), skin hydration, skin pH, and erythema. Comparisons were made between washing with soap or water alone, and drying using a towel (rubbing and patting) or evaporation. The significance of any difference was assessed by nonparametric analysis. The study was approved by the local research ethics committee, and all volunteers gave informed consent.

Results: TEWL was seen to increase following each type of wash, and increased further following repeated washing. Drying of the skin by patting with a towel increased TEWL to give readings identical to those obtained from wet skin. There was an increase in skin pH with all washing and drying techniques, particularly when soap was used. Erythema also increased with repeated washing, particularly when soap was used. No significant changes were observed in skin hydration as measured by a corneometer, although there was a tendency for the values to decrease with washing.

Conclusions: These data suggest that washing with soap and water and towel drying has a significant disrupting effect on the skin's barrier function. There is tentative evidence to suggest that a cumulative effect may exist with damage increasing as washing frequency increases. Drying the skin by patting with a towel offers no advantage to conventional gentle rubbing as it leaves the skin significantly wetter and at greater risk of frictional damage.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Baths* / adverse effects
  • Baths* / methods
  • Baths* / nursing
  • Bedding and Linens
  • Clinical Nursing Research
  • Cohort Studies
  • Electric Capacitance
  • Erythema / diagnosis
  • Erythema / etiology*
  • Erythema / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Friction
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ichthyosis / diagnosis
  • Ichthyosis / etiology*
  • Ichthyosis / prevention & control
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena* / drug effects
  • Soaps / adverse effects
  • Soaps / chemistry
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Water Loss, Insensible / drug effects
  • Water Loss, Insensible / physiology


  • Soaps