Hand Cream


The Covid-19 pandemic is a difficult period in modern human history. Since its outbreak at the end of December 2019, it has brought unknowns and challenges to the world and changed many human habits in modern society. During this period, due to the breaking of habits, people used some daily objects in special ways. For example, during the pandemic, my frequency of using hand cream increased significantly. Objects can help us understand personal and social life and emotional space in the past, and help us reflect on the present and constrain the future (Canham et al., 2020). Through the special use of hand cream, we can reflect on the changes brought to us during the pandemic. At the same time, by reviewing the history of how humans use hand care products, we may be able to understand our own social culture in the past from another perspective.

I patted the thin dust on the cover of the hand cream gift box. This is the third year it has been sleeping on my cupboard. I opened the gift box and saw the 6 hand creams still looking brand new lying inside. While thinking that the last time I used hand cream seemed to be a long time ago, I took out the purple one from the box. I twisted the lid and gently squeezed the metal iron tube, and the white smooth paste appeared on the back of my dry hand with the fragrance of flowers. I rubbed my hands alternately, and evenly spread the hand cream. This short period of self-care is a way for me to protect my health during this uneasy period of the pandemic.

Protect Skin Health during the Pandemic

These 6 empty hand cream tubes are the number of hand creams I have used in the first four months of the pandemic. During the pandemic, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, I, like everyone else, increased the frequency of washing hands and using hand sanitizers. Especially after every time I go home and after using public transportation, I can roughly calculate that I wash my hands more than 20 times a day. Whenever I clean my hands, I use hand cream.

WHO (2021) claims that hand hygiene is one of the most effective measures to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent infection, including the COVID-19 virus. The use of soap and water can eliminate contamination. In the absence of water and soap, it is recommended to use a hydroalcohol gel with an ethanol percentage greater than 60% (Daye, Gökşin Cihan & Durduran, 2020). With frequent hand cleaning, the problem of rough skin on the hands is brought about. Not only that, excessive washing of hands with detergents or disinfectants can damage the water and fat mantle on the surface of the skin, and may also cause irritation and even cause various types of dermatitis (Mościcka et al., 2020). In addition, this type of skin damage creates an entry route for COVID-19, and basic skin care measures should be taken after washing hands to solve this problem (Singh et al., 2020). Therefore, experts recommend applying hand cream/moisturizer to intact skin after washing hands (Symum et al., 2020; Yan et al., 2020).

Wash your hand. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/dry/coronavirus-handwashing
Using hand sanitizer. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/dry/coronavirus-handwashing
Apply moisturizer. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/dry/coronavirus-handwashing

Changes in Habits during the Pandemic

Cleaning my hands 20 times a day and using an average of 1.5 tubes of hand cream a month is a special memory of my past. Before the pandemic, I was not a person who used hand cream diligently. I am curious about the establishment of this new habit of myself. Therefore, in order to record the results of this change, when these hand creams were used up, they were not discarded like ordinary consumables, but became my private collection.

The Covid-19 pandemic has penetrated into all aspects of our lives, leading to changes in various habits that have been formed by humans for a long time. The extensive use of hand creams and other moisturizing products shows that people’s habits of using cosmetics and skin care products have changed during this special period. Google Trends data clearly shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, public interest in skin care treatments has changed significantly (Symum et al., 2020). According to the survey by Mościcka et al. (2020), the frequency of use of hand cream has increased significantly during the pandemic. In sharp contrast, the use of cosmetics such as lipstick, nail varnish and perfume has decreased. In addition, due to the long stay at home and the closure of beauty salons, women more often perform skin self-care (Mościcka et al., 2020). Therefore, the importance of the Internet as a source of knowledge in the field of beauty has greatly increased (Scieszko et al., 2021). At the same time, long-term work from home and distance restrictions have made people change from being accustomed to buying beauty products in stores to relying on online shopping (Gerstell et al., 2020). It is conceivable that this will also promote another development of the digitalization of the beauty industry.

Not only the habit of skin care and beauty, the academic community has discussed and studied the changes in various human habits caused by the pandemic, including people’s eating habits, buying habits and so on (Abbas & Kamel, 2020; Sheth, 2020, p.280). The formation of habit has an important relationship with the environment (Lally & Gardner, 2013, p. 137), and an effective way to break the habit is to remove people from the environment that caused the habit (p. 149). There is no doubt that the occurrence of a pandemic is a major change in the human social environment. When the pandemic eventually pass, as the social environment changes again, then people will consciously or unconsciously face another choice, that is, to keep the habits before the pandemic or the habits during the pandemic (Fitzgerald, 2021) and how to keep these habits. This is worthy of everyone’s thinking. For skin care, according to the study of Symum et al. (2020), nearly half of the respondents believe that they will continue to maintain new habits after the pandemic is over.

The Historical Role of Hand Care Products

The interaction between us and objects is an important means of understanding the past (Canham et al., 2020). The empty tube of my hand cream helped me record the changes in my skin care habits during the pandemic, and also allowed me to reflect on the changes in people’s various habits during the pandemic. Moreover, skin care products have a long history of impact on human society and culture. Cosmetics and skin care products have played many different and important roles in human history (Draelos, 2000, p. 559). If we look back at the history of how people use hand care products, we now seem to be able to glimpse fragments of human life in the past.

In the Victorian era, women began to use soothing or softening agents and use Bleaches to whiten their hands, because smooth, delicate, white hands were considered an important part of feminine charm at the time (Cosmetics and Skin, 2017). In the 1930s, the idea that hand creams and lotions could be used to counter the effects of housework became popular, which led to an increase in sales of hand care products (Cosmetics and Skin, 2017). We do not have sufficient evidence to estimate the husbands contribution to domestic work in the 1920s, although many subsequent analyses indicate that these contributions have only increased slightly since the 1970s (Gershuny & Harms, 2016, p. 9). It is conceivable that in such an era when there are no dishwashers, washing machines and other household appliances, women’s hands are responsible for most of the housework, and how to protect the skin of their hands is very likely to become a common worry for women. In addition, during this period, chemists began to pay attention to the research and development of such products (deNavarre, 1935, p. 71), and more cost-effective hand care products with multiple uses came into being (Cosmetics and Skin, 2017). We can guess that at the time of the Great Depression, people’s limited budget may be an important reason for chemists to improve the formulation of hand creams and lotions.

The beginning of World War II once again stimulated the development of hand care products that provide better protection (Cosmetics and Skin, 2017). During the war, a large number of women replaced the positions originally held by the men who went to participate in the war. Among them, there were many hard labor jobs such as heavy industry (Yesil, 2004, p. 103). Rough hands caused by industrial work and hand diseases caused by harsh hand cleaning with cleansers after work (Cosmetics and Skin, 2017) have created expectations and demands for more effective skin care products . A series of lotion advertisements at that time also juxtaposed the image of doing war work and doing housework by hand (Yesil, 2004, p. 112), which portrayed a social outlook in which women play multiple roles.

1875 Trade advertisement for Wheeler’s Glycerine Jelly. Retrieved from
1953 Campana Italian Balm. Retrieved from https://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/fgf/hand-creams.php
1956 Savlon Barrier Cream. Retrieved from https://www.cosmeticsandskin.com/fgf/hand-creams.php

Nowadays, the outbreak of the pandemic has once again promoted the development of hand care products and other moisturizing products. According to Bloomberg (2020), the lipstick index invented by Leonard Lauder in the early 21st century has been officially replaced by the moisturizer index. The main reason behind this is the change in health and skin care habits brought about by the pandemic during this period. Using hand care products as a method of narrating the past (Pierce, 1994) is recording and telling every era story about us. 

The Most Moisturizing Creams for Diligent Hand Washers. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/t-magazine/best-moisturizing-creams-lotion.html

The Author

My name is Serena Huang. I come from China. Currently, I’m doing my MA at Maastricht University.


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