What do you do when your hands are all washed up?

We’re all told to wash our hands thoroughly in this time of Covid 19 – and quite rightly.  Washing your hands can keep you safe from the spreading virus.

But frequent hand washing, as I think we all know by now, can make your skin rather sore, rough and sometimes leave you with broken skin.  There are plenty of hand creams out there but, frankly, the cheap hand creams aren’t necessarily going to be the best solution for damaged skin.  They are full of man-made chemicals that can be very harsh and, in themselves, damaging.

Added to that, a lot of people are having to self-isolate and can’t get to the shops so buying hand cream can be a problem. High quality hand creams are expensive. There are dilemmas all round!

So I’ve been thinking about store-cupboard and garden remedies.  With some very ordinary and inexpensive ingredients you can make your own skincare which can work very well indeed.

The most basic and quick treatment is oil, the oil you use for cooking such as sunflower, coconut or olive oil, preferably organic but it’s not essential, of course. Pour a teaspoonful or less into the palm of your hands and ‘wash’ your skin with it. 

Another pretty instant remedy you could try – yes, I’m serious – a spoonful of porridge mixed with a spoonful of honey. Slather it on and leave it for a few minutes, then rinse off with warm water.  It’s better than you might think!

But back to perhaps more conventional ingredients (although never forget oats, milk and honey for skin treatments).

If you have them to hand, or can buy them in, there are many other skin-friendly, healing oils, some culinary, some more dermatological: avocado, evening primrose, blackcurrant seed, rosehip, almond, apricot kernel, vitamin E, for example.

If you want to be more sophisticated and fancy a lotion or salve rather than a dab of pure oil, you could add a thickener: beeswax is the classic but pure shea butter, coconut butter, gelatine (vegetarian is the better choice), can all work really well when gently melted and blended with an oil or two.

When your skin is really rough some kindly herbs are useful in trying to promote healing:  chamomile, lavender, marigold (calendula), plantain (that one with flat oval radiating leaves and spikey stalks in the middle - you know, the one all lawn-lovers find very pesky), geranium among the many plants that are either, or both, soothing and promote the regeneration of cells.  They can smell good too.

One of my favourite herbal remedy books is James Wong’s*. He suggests a really simple solution for soothing rough hands with a herb called, appropriately, Self Heal (for the Latinate among you that’s Prunella vulgaris).  He advocates using this herb fresh, flowers and leaves, but at this time of year that’s difficult so dried will do very well. Pack a sterilised jar with Self Heal, and pour over enough olive oil or similar to cover (otherwise the mix can spoil). Close the jar and leave on a windowsill for 3-4 weeks.  Then sieve and bottle the oil. Use it twice daily, or as a bath oil perhaps.

You can use this infusion or maceration method with any of the herbs in our list (there are many others of an equally healing nature but let's keep this simple). You can, if you’re in more urgent need, make your infusion by putting the jar, open, into a pan of water, with the water reaching at least half way up the jar, and gently, very gently bring it nearly to the boil; then turn down the heat to gentle and leave for several hours. You must keep an eye on it: you don’t want the oil to burn, and you don’t want the pan to dry out. When it's ready remove from the heat and allow to cool properly overnight. Strain and bottle the oil.

Once the maceration is done, you could use it as it is or blend it with a thickener such as beeswax. If you then add a few drops of healing essential oils, and hey presto you have a very effective salve.  Of course you want to try a ready-made one - and we have one that would be perfectly fitted to the job: Little Herbs' versatile Baby Balm or you could find equal ease with our Soothing Salve

For another beautifully easy hand lotion, made with a slightly different technique - a bit like making mayonnaise, there’s the following from Jill Nice’s** herb book:

Warm the honey in a bowl over a pan of hot water (or bain marie); beat in the oil. Warm the flower water and vinegar to the same temperature and beat them slowly into the honey mix - a little at a time. Continue beating until the mixture cools. Pour into a clean jar or bottle and seal.

Remember how important it is to keep washing your hands and I hope we’ve given you some pointers to some effective and pleasant homemade remedies should your skin start to feel a bit, well, worn out.

If you have any queries please get in touch by email at hello@littleherbs.co.uk and we will do our best to answer.

* Grow Your Own Drugs, James Wong pub Collins (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd) 2009. ISBN 978-0-00784-548-4

** Herbal Remedies and Home Comforts by Jill Nice. Pub: Piatkus 1990 ISBN: 0-7499-1008-9