The single, most important piece of advice health experts can offer to help us stay safe from COVID-19 is wash your hands.
Washing our hands properly kills any viruses we might have come into contact with. WHO (the World Health Organisation) recommend we ‘wash hands frequently, regularly and thoroughly with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water’. The NHS suggest washing for at least 20 seconds and whenever we get home or into work. They also propose using hand sanitiser gel if simple soap and water are not available.
According to Public Health England a hand sanitiser should have a 60% or higher alcohol content (most commercial brands contain 60-95%) to kill viruses effectively. Whilst such a strong concentration of alcohol is great at killing bacteria, it’s not very kind or gentle on our skin.
Frequent and repeated use of hand sanitisers can most definitely aggravate sensitive skin, causing prolonged irritation and chronic dryness.
Continually rubbing in a high concentration of alcohol not only depletes the vital oils our hands need, it also puts a strain on our skin cells ability to replenish, renew, and rejuvenate. Alcohol based sanitisers and soaps can break down our skins protective barrier, but in the midst of a pandemic it is of course vital to continue using them.
Teachers, nurses and catering staff have all reached out to me this week complaining of intensely painful, cracked hands, which they attribute to the repeated use of strong cleansers. With no sign of respite from CoronaVirus any time soon, and the primary advice being to continue thoroughly washing our hands, the key is considering what else we can do to care for our skin.
Rather than apply yet more petrochemicals in the form of paraffin based emollient creams, try switching to natural, more gentle lotions instead. Whilst cheap, thick hand creams initially seem to offer instant relief from painfully chapped skin, petroleum and other chemicals used in cosmetic emollients might actually be making the problem of sore hands worse.
These ingredients form a synthetic seal across the skin, blocking pores and further hampering its own ability to produce oil.
Now is the time to invest in a little extra self-care. Switching to a cream full of naturally nourishing botanicals will help to replace some of the oils that have been stripped through perpetual cleansing, without blocking our skin's own ability to replenish.
Apply after using my oatmeal hand soak. Simple recipe below.
Oatmeal Hand Soak
Oatmeal has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. According to the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, colloidal oatmeal became more widely available as a treatment for skin conditions back in the nineteen forties.
The reason oatmeal can offer hydration and relief is because it naturally contains starches and beta-glucan which help to retain water, thereby enhancing its moisturising abilities. It also contains a form of natural sugar called polysaccharides, which create a protective barrier to help prevent the skin from losing excess water. The simple action of soaking skin in oatmeal is nourishing, soothing, and inflammation-relieving, it’s the reason you often see colloidal oatmeal incorporated in a variety of skin and hair care products.
Always patch test prior to soaking by applying some dissolved colloidal oatmeal to a small patch of skin, (the inside of your wrist or elbow works well). Rinse the preparation off after about 15 minutes and check for signs of a reaction. If there is no sign of redness or irritation, go ahead and make your hand soak.
100g rolled oats (you should look for a brand free from flavourings, chemicals, sugars and salts)
50ml almond, hemp seed or olive oil
5 drops of lavender or other favourite essential oil (optional)
- Grind the oats into a fine powder using a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor. If you don’t have one, you can add the whole oats to a small drawstring muslin bag instead and tie tightly
- Fill a large mixing bowl with warm water, adding the powdered oats as you run the tap or pop the muslin bag into the water. Powdered oatmeal should quickly and easily dissolve, resulting in a bowl of milky warm water. Add your nourishing carrier oil and a few drops of essential oil (optional)
- Soak your hands completely in the water for ten minutes. Pat skin dry with a soft, clean towel and apply a natural moisturiser such as this one.