Caring for well-washed hands

Now that we’re all washing our hands so frequently, many are complaining that their skin is getting dry and cracked. It so happens that I spent a lot of my professional career dealing with people who had just the same problem – it’s a consequence of cold injury such as mild frostbite – and can offer some suggestions to help.

The reason that repeated hand-washing, whether using soap and water or alcohol-based gels, causes problems is that it removes the natural oils from the upper layers of the skin. This isn’t ‘moisture’ (which would be water rather than oils), and many ‘moisturising’ treatments actually don’t help much. What you need to do periodically is replace those lost oils.

The most convenient natural oil to use for this is lanolin, which ironically is removed from wool during processing. It’s available in three forms:

  • Pure lanolin, which should also be hypoallergenic so that your skin doesn’t become sensitised to it. This is a cosmetic product, and is therefore generally expensive.
  • Lanolin for the care of cows’ udders, known in North America as bag balm. Most dairy farmers use large quantities, so it’s relatively cheap. Ensure that it doesn’t contain additives such as steroids or antibiotics, though.
  • Some creams for use on babies’ bums. In the UK by far the best for this purpose is Sudocrem, which contains zinc oxide and hypoallergenic lanolin. It’s considerably cheaper than pure lanolin, and widely available far away from dairy farms.

Late in the day, when you’ve got most of your handwashing out of the way, apply a light coat of the preparation to all skin which is becoming dry, and leave it to be absorbed before removing any excess. You don’t want to leave any lanolin on the surface of the skin: it can stain or mark some materials, and because it’s oily it just might harbour Coronavirus, which would defeat the whole purpose of washing your hands.

It’s important to look after the skin of your hands – ask anyone who works in ‘scrub’ roles in operating theatres – as our skin is a primary defence against threats like the Coronavirus.

I promise this is the last beauty tip that you’ll read here, but hope that it helps you.