When you dropped Halloween candy into the trick-or-treaters' bags, did they scream in fear at the sight of your hands?
If your hands look old, dry and wrinkled, with ragged hangnails - even if the kids didn't scream, you probably did.
But help is at hand.
Try "lemonade hands," says Norma Pasekoff Weinberg, author of the new book "Natural Hand Care, Herbal Treatments and Simple Techniques for Healthy Hands and Nails" (Storey Books, $19.95). "That's a quick little pick-me-up for when you look at your hands and you say, 'Oh, they look 97 and I'm not 97.' "
Pour about a tablespoon of granulated sugar in your palm, then squeeze enough juice from a fresh lemon wedge to make a paste. Rub your hands together. The heat of your hands will melt the sugar until it forms a candy glaze. Work the glaze over your hands, leave it on for five minutes, then rinse with warm water. "It smooths the skin and acts as a mild exfoliant," says Weinberg.
An entire book about hands might seem a bit much. Weinberg felt the same way; when the publisher asked her to write 165 pages, her first thought was, "Can I go up to the elbow?" But the herbal educator quickly discovered enough hand problems to fill 265 pages.
Do you sit at a computer all day? Take a break and touch the tip of each finger to the thumb, repeating the sequence a couple of times. Then flick each finger. Raise your arms above your head and run your fingers up and down the scales on an imaginary piano.
Are your fingers cold? Improve circulation by making a fist, then uncurling each finger and then curling each finger into a fist again. Do a couple of big arm circles - pretend you're doing the backstroke, Weinberg says - to get the blood flowing. And brew a cup of ginkgo tea, which Weinberg also recommends to improve circulation.
If you've ever wondered how nail polish came about, what makes a knuckle crack, or where fingernail moons come from, this book highlights such snippets of information in easy-to-read boxes. (Nail polish evolved when softening resins were added to nitrocellulose lacquer, which was used to paint Fords in the 1920s; moons are thought to be hereditary, but unusually large moons can indicate an overactive thyroid; and in 1971 British scientists discovered that the sound of cracking knuckles is actually the bursting of gas bubbles in the synovial fluid inside the joint.)
Weinberg also stresses a simple approach to having beautiful hands - prevention. Wear gloves for gardening, cleaning and dish washing, and use sunscreen when the gloves are off. "I talk to many gardeners who say, 'I like to feel the dirt.' Well, OK, but run soap under your fingernails before you garden to keep the dirt out."
Weinberg also learned the hard way - with a badly infected cuticle - that cuticles should never, ever be cut. They protect the matrix of the nails. And when you walk into a nail salon, she says, make sure the tools are clean and ask how they are cleaned.
"That jar of blue liquid isn't good enough," she says. "It won't kill blood-borne viruses." Her rule of thumb for considering a nail salon is to pose the question, "Would I eat here?"
"If there's fumes, if it doesn't look clean, turn around and walk out," she advises.
If you do, don't forget to put on gloves if it's cold outside or sunscreen if it's not. Those little liver spots? They're sun damage. And yes, she offers several remedies to fade them, such as a compress made from a fresh sorrel leave placed on the skin for 15 minutes or rubbing them with unrefined avocado oil. But again, prevention is easier.
A Handy Way to Clean Up
It smears onto hands like shaving cream, then evaporates in seconds after zapping any germs, viruses or resistant organisms lurking on the skin.
Hand sanitizers, ethyl alcohol-based moisturizing foams, used for a decade by health-care professionals, are becoming popular with regular folks who change diapers, pump gas, shake hands and picnic at places that might not have running water.
"I love that stuff," says Dr. Trish Perl, an epidemiologist and infectious-disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "I think it's the coolest stuff since sliced bread."
"It's a supplement to hand-washing, not a replacement for hand-washing," says Megan Pace, a spokeswoman for one brand, Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer. "But you know, as do those of us with busy lives, you can't bring a sink with you everywhere you go."
The concoction has been studied in Europe, "and the European data bears out that they're a great adjunct to hand-washing," Perl says.
She notes that in some intensive-care settings, proper procedures can call for health-care workers to wash their hands 42 times an hour.
Figuring on 30 seconds a hand-wash, that doesn't leave much time to care for the patients.
But hand sanitizers can be applied while a nurse is on the move or before entering a patient's room.
The sanitizers, available for under $5, are also ideal for people driving ambulances and police cars and teachers facing a classroom full of runny noses and hands that don't keep to themselves.
But the experts caution that they are not a substitute for regular ++ hand-washing; they don't remove dirt, for example, and while they might kill disease-causing agents in blood, they won't wash off the blood itself.
Still, with flu season approaching, it might be a good idea to keep a bottle nearby for that moment when your biggest client XTC coughs and sneezes, then reaches out to shake your hand.
Pub Date: 12/06/98