The importance of hand hygiene


This past couple of years, we’ve all been busy washing our hands a lot more than usual. It’s proven that washing our hands with soap and water for 20 seconds can kill the coronavirus - but were you as diligent in keeping your hands squeaky clean before the pandemic?
Washing our hands is one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of any disease, not just COVID-19. In this guide, we’ll be exploring how clean hands can reward you with a clean bill of health, especially now we’re all coming out of lockdown and venturing back out into the world.

How does washing our hands prevent infection?

Bacteria and viruses can get onto our hands in all kinds of ways. Germs like norovirus can get onto our hands after using the toilet or changing a baby’s nappy, or we could pick up salmonella, for example, from handling raw meats.
If someone’s coughed or sneezed on an object, we could pick up a respiratory virus like influenza or COVID-19 onto our hands with just a touch. Thankfully, we don’t contract these diseases just by touching them, we have to let them get into our eyes, nose or mouth first.
That can be easier than it seems, as people are constantly touching their faces without even realising - research has found that people touch their faces, on average, 16 times per hour.
This is where hand hygiene comes in: it’s completely safe to touch your eyes, nose or mouth as long as you’ve washed off any germs that you’ve picked up.
Washing your hands doesn’t just benefit yourself, either. Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to objects that hundreds or thousands of people touch every day, from handrails and door handles, to tabletops and light switches.
On top of that, handling food or drinks with unwashed hands can easily lead to contamination: bacteria or viruses can even start to multiply in some types of food or drinks.
It’s impossible to completely eradicate all of the germs around us, but washing our hands more often can keep ourselves and others safer with less chance of becoming sick.

How often should we be washing our hands?

Knowing how easy it is to pick up bacteria and viruses, it can be easy to feel out of control. We can’t spend our whole day with our hands in the sink, so when should we be prioritising our hand hygiene?
According to the NHS, this is when we should be washing our hands:

  • After using the toilet or changing a nappy
  • Before and after handling raw foods like meat and vegetables
  • Before eating or handling food
  • After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages.

Even if your hands don’t look visibly dirty, it’s extremely important to wash them properly in all of the above situations. This way, we can prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria and stop ourselves and others from becoming sick with something really unpleasant like food poisoning or the flu.

Soap or hand sanitiser?

You may remember the rush to stock up on hand sanitiser at the start of the pandemic, but is it as effective as soap and water? Unfortunately not - soap and water are still the most effective way to kill a virus and remove it from our hands.
However, that doesn’t mean hand sanitiser doesn’t have its place. Hand sanitiser is a must-have product to keep with you in your pocket, handbag or car whenever you’re on the go.
When we’re out and about, sometimes we don’t have access to soap and running water, so using a hand sanitiser with an alcohol content of 60% or more can keep us protected. It’s convenient to use before eating with your hands or after coughing or sneezing if you’ve got no other option.
It’s also good practice to use it now and again after touching surfaces that could easily be contaminated, like handrails or door handles.
Hand sanitiser can be quite harsh on your skin due to the alcohol content, so you might want to keep a moisturising hand cream with you to keep your hands from becoming dry or cracked.


Should we all be wearing disposable gloves?

With so many germs threatening to contaminate our hands at every turn, it might be tempting to wear a pair of disposable gloves when you’re out and about. Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually make a difference.
A pair of disposable gloves might stop a virus from getting onto your hands, but that virus will just live on the gloves instead. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with the contaminated gloves, just as you would with your bare hands, you may still contract the virus.
Disposable gloves might actually cause more harm than good by giving you a false sense of security and leading you to wash your hands less. The only times that disposable gloves may prove beneficial are when you’re cleaning your home or caring for someone who’s sick.
If you do wear disposable gloves for any reason, you need to make sure you’re still washing them in the same situations you’d be washing your hands.

How to wash your hands correctly

So now we know how important it is to wash our hands, what’s the best way to do it? Rinsing your palms with a splash of water isn’t going to kill any infection, but you don’t need to scrub your hands with copious amounts of harsh chemicals to reap the benefits either.
All you need is a little bit of soap and some warm water, a hygienic method of drying your hands, and twenty seconds to spare. Start by wetting your hands with water and applying enough soap to cover your hands.
Rub your hands together and make sure to get in between your fingers: use one hand to rub the back of the other hand and then rub the back of your fingers against your palms. Rub your thumbs using the opposite hand, then circle the tips of your fingers on the palm of your hands to get your fingertips squeaky clean.
After rinsing your hands with water, the best way to dry your hand is with a clean, disposable paper towel, which you can then use to turn off the tap without even touching it. Another hygienic way to turn off the tap is with your elbow or the back of your wrist, making sure to keep your palms and fingertips clean.
You turned on the tap with your dirty fingertips just twenty seconds ago - you don’t want to be picking up those germs again after you’ve gone to the trouble of washing your hands!
Using door handles and light switches with the back of your hand can also be beneficial if you’re about to eat or handle food, especially if you’re out in a public place like a cafe or restaurant.

So, what have we learnt about hand hygiene? We now know how vital it is to wash our hands and when it’s most effective to do so.
We’ve learnt that carrying a hand sanitiser can be convenient and beneficial, but wearing a pair of disposable gloves when you’re out shopping doesn’t help anyone! Don’t forget to wash your hands for around 20 seconds each time to reap the full benefits, and make sure you’re using enough soap.
Armed with hand hygiene know-how, you can venture back out into the world knowing how to keep yourself and your loved ones protected. To keep your hands in tip-top condition, browse our range of hand creams, soaps and sanitisers, all available with fast delivery.

Faye Bonnell - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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