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.  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 wash and creams are, of course, available here at Great Elm. And, if you know someone - perhaps a nurse or doctor - in need of a handy treat right now we have beautiful and very useful giftsets.  

Our suggested treatment at the end of a busy day is to wash your hands with Rosemary & Soapwort handwash, dry well, massage well with a little Lavender Oil Salve or Sweet Bay Oil Salve followed by a slick of hand cream. You could, if you like, don some cotton gloves to keep the goodness where it should be.

Apart from recommending our products, I’ve been thinking about emergency remedies from the store-cupboard.  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 spoon of porridge with a spoon honey. Slather it on and leave it for a few minutes, then rinse off with warm water.  It’s better than you 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 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:  chamomile, lavender, marigold (calendula), plantain, self-heal, geranium among the many plants that are either, or both, soothing and promote the regeneration of cells.  They 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. Pack a sterilised jar with self heal, and pour over enough olive oil 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. You can, if you’re in more urgent need, make your infusion by putting the jar, open, into a pan of water, at least up to  half way, 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. Then remove from the heat and allow to cool properly overnight. Strain and bottle the oil.

Once the maceration is ready, 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, it will also smell divine and hey presto you have a very effective salve.

For a more sophisticated take on an easy honey lotion there’s the following from Jill Nice’s** herb book:

  • 2 tablespoons clear honey
  • 2 tablespoons almond oil (or similar)
  • 5 tablespoons rose or lavender water
  • 1 tablespoons cider vinegar

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 best 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 pointer 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 info@great-elm.com 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