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Spending Time in the Garden Without Wrecking Your Skin

Enjoy gardening without wrecking your hands. Don't let dry skin stand in the way of doing what you love!

If you don’t already keep a garden of some sort, you might want to seriously consider planting one – because believe it or not, gardening is astoundingly good for you.

In addition to lowering the level of stress hormones in the body and improving feelings of self-worth, studies have shown that regular gardening can reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke by up to 30% in people over the age of 60 and may even reduce the risk of developing dementia by as much as 47%!

Despite these remarkable benefits, there is still one part of the body that gardening isn’t good for: the skin. And since prevention is always the best cure for what ails you, here are some common threats you may encounter and some ways to protect your skin while working in the garden.

Dangerous Garden Plants

We all know that poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are treacherous plants to be around, but these aren’t the only plants that can cause damage to your skin. Some kinds of plants, like geraniums, chrysanthemums, and tomatoes, contain allergens that can cause a mild but annoying rash, while others – euphorbia, for one, and oleander, which can also be deadly if ingested – can trigger a more severe allergic reaction that causes hives or red welts to appear on the skin.

A few types of plants, like rue, carrots, and celery, can cause extreme sun sensitivity if they come into contact with your skin, leading to severe sunburn and possible blistering.

And then you have plants that are really mean: stinging nettles, cacti, mulberries, roses, and thistles – to name a few – have sharp, serrated leaves, needle-like hairs, or thorns that can pierce or abrade the skin and cause an infection.

To avoid exposing your skin to any of these plants, always wear a sturdy pair of vinyl garden gloves and be careful not to touch your face while gardening – if you anticipate getting sweat in your eyes, keep a clean rag handy and blot your face dry rather than wiping it so you don’t wind up rubbing plant particles into your skin. Wash your hands and arms thoroughly with soap immediately after gardening, and don’t use the same towel to dry your hands every time you wash them. Finally, shower if possible and change into fresh clothes if not.

The very best way to protect yourself from harmful garden plants is to be smart. Know exactly what kinds of plants you have growing in your garden, and know how to identify dangerous intruders. For a more comprehensive list of plants that can cause skin damage, see this page by the Royal Horticultural Society of Great Britain. You may also want to check out BLUE-EMU®’s previous blog posts about identifying poison ivy and destroying it safely.

BLUE-EMU Anti-Itch Cream with Cort-Emu Complex

Exposure to Chemicals

Many commonly used gardening chemicals have the potential to do serious skin damage. Insecticides and weed killers are the biggest culprits; they can cause skin irritations from mild rashes to severe burns and are also harmful to the eyes, nose, and throat. In addition, these chemicals have been known to cause cancer and hormonal imbalances, and they’re bad for birds and “good” garden plants as well as humans.

To avoid these dangers, consider using safer alternatives to commercial chemical insecticides. There are dozens of “home remedies” for insect control using household ingredients like white vinegar, cayenne pepper, beer, and even just water. Planting certain fragrant herbs like mint, rosemary, and pennyroyal throughout your garden is a natural way to deter insects, and you can also recruit beneficial bugs like ladybugs and praying mantises to help combat their more destructive cousins by creating hospitable conditions to attract them or by planting certain flowers around the edges of your garden.

As for weeds, the best and safest way to rid your garden of them is to pull them daily. Barring that, try cutting a soda bottle in half and placing it over the weed, then aiming the nozzle of a commercial weed killer down the neck of the bottle; this will keep the spray from touching anything but the weed. Be cautious with “safe” alternatives to chemical weed killers; commonly suggested home remedies include the use of boiling water (which is dangerous for obvious reasons) and the use of vinegar, salt, and/or baking soda, ingredients that will kill any plant they touch and may render the surrounding soil barren for years – bad news for a growing garden.

Fertilizers and Plant Foods

It’s not just chemicals designed to kill things that present dangers to the skin. Fertilizers and plant foods contain nitrates, which are extremely effective at promoting healthy plant growth but are equally hazardous to humans in high quantities because they impair the body’s ability to circulate oxygen through the bloodstream.

Wearing thick vinyl gloves and long pants and sleeves when handling any type of fertilizer will prevent direct contact with the skin, and since the fumes can be harmful as well, a face mask is also a good idea. Fertilizer is most dangerous when ingested, so make sure to keep your hands away from your face and mouth and wash them thoroughly after removing your gloves.

When Prevention Isn't Enough

The good news is that the vast majority of skin irritations caused by gardening can be easily treated by taking an oral antihistamine like Benadryl or Claritin and by applying a topical steroid cream like BLUE-EMU® Anti-Itch Cream, available over-the-counter at your local drugstore or right here on the BLUE-EMU® website.

Thanks to our proprietary CORT-EMU complex that combines the highest concentration of itch-fighting hydrocortisone available without a prescription and the deep-penetrating power of our signature ingredient, 100% pure emu oil, BLUE-EMU® works fast to stop the itch without any greasy residue or unpleasant odor. Remember to be careful – but better have some handy just in case!

BLUE-EMU Anti-Itch Cream with Cort-Emu Complex

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