Working outside in all weathers, pricks from thorns, stings from nettles, and grubbing about in gritty soil plays havoc with your hands, not to mention nails. And scrubbing off that ingrained dirt is tough on your skin, too.
Wearing gloves is undoubtedly the best way to keep your hands clean (apply hand cream before you put them on, for a simultaneous skin-conditioning treatment), but some jobs, like planting out seedlings, always feel too fiddly to do anything other than bare-handed.
An old trick is to scrape your nails along a bar of soap before you start, so there’s no room underneath for dirt. Use the nailbrush after your session and nails should be back to normal.
But if those black-rimmed nails stubbornly remain, make a paste of lemon juice and baking soda and apply with the nailbrush or an old toothbrush, for sparkling-clean nails.
Your guide to nail health
Prepare and protect
Apply a protective cream before you start work to protect your hands and make cleaning them easier.
Sapooni TLC Barrier Balm (60g, £7) is packed with naturally hydrating ingredients including wheatgerm and hempseed oils, shea and mango butters, together with healing arnica and calendula. Olive wax protects the skin from irritants and damage. Apply beforehand and once you’ve packed your tools away.
Sting in the Tail Gardener’s Barrier Cream (125g, £9.99) is a blend of essential oils, aloe vera and vitamin E, which penetrates skin to protect from ingrained dirt. Apply a second layer after washing, to soothe your skin.
If you’ve just wandered round with a watering-can, or deadheaded a few shrubs and your hands aren’t really dirty, just use your usual soap or handwash.
For extra cleaning power, sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar onto wet hands, and massage in while you wash them as normal.
Alternatively, mix a couple of handfuls of oats with warm water, then massage the mix into your hands. The oats gently remove dirt while being kind to your skin.
Or make an exfoliating scrub, to remove dirt and slough off dead skin cells, so your hands will look better than before. Mix two teaspoons of vegetable oil (sweet almond, olive or sunflower are all great) with a teaspoon of sugar or salt. Work into your hands as if lathering a bar of soap, and wash off as normal. Result? Soft, smooth, clean and moisturised hands.
Developed in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society, Bronnley RHS Natural Gardeners’ Therapy Exfoliating Hand Wash (250ml, £8) has ground walnut shells to scrub skin, and a woody, citrussy fragrance, in a handy pump dispenser with striking wildflower photography.
Scented with lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme, Crabtree & Evelyn Gardeners Hand Scrub with Pumice (195g, £14) gently cleanses with soothing comfrey and contains two sizes of pumice particle to lift all dirt.
Textured with an exfoliating mix of herbs and oat bran, Gardener’s Soap from The Eden Project (75g, £4) is free from palm oil, and contains moisturising avocado oil with honey to remove dirt while nourishing sore skin. Its sweet orange and tea tree essential oils have antibacterial properties, while citronella repels insects.
From ever-inventive Lush comes Gardener (150g, £5.95), a dark green cold-pressed soap decorated with a red watering can. Suffused with herbal infusions and essential oils to gently lift away dirt, it’s good for your hands – and the garden. Spray the soapy waste water over your flowers as it contains aphid-discouraging ingredients!
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Cream of the crop
Hand cream for horticulturalists needs to be rich and nourishing to counteract the dehydrating effects of wind and water, and soothing and healing to reduce soreness, redness and irritation. Antibacterial essential oils are useful too.
Bronnley RHS Natural Gardeners’ Therapy Moisturising Hand & Nail Cream (100ml, £7.60) is enriched with shea butter and keratin to moisturise and protect.
Free from parabens and sulphates, Gardeners Hand Cream Trio with Shea Butter(3 x handbag-sized tubes £5) is enriched with shea butter, vitamin E, with citrus and mint essential oils. Packaged in vintage veg and bird illustrations, its fragrance is grow-your-own inspiration, with red tomato and redcurrant with fresh basil and mint on a base of cedarwood and musk.
Heavy-duty skin saviours
If you’ve been putting in the hours on your plot, you’ll benefit from a more intensive formulation.
Intensely nourishing, Neal’s Yard Citrus Hand Softener (50g, £15) comes in the trademark blue jar, with a strong citrussy scent, and is a blend of avocado, blackcurrant seed and coconut oils combined with shea nut butter to restore work-worn hands.
If you suffer from cracked skin around fingertips and nails, treat it with Sting in the Tail Gardener’s Hack Wax (75g, £8), a tin of beeswax blended with aloe vera, vitamin E and essential oils including almond oil, evening primrose oil, avocado oil, geranium oil and chamomile.
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