Should we be taking off our rings and watches to wash our hands? Will sanitizer hurt jewelry? Can it spread the virus?
They’re the questions on everyone’s mind at any given moment right now: When did I last wash my hands? Is it time to wash my hands again? Am I washing my hands for long enough? Am I using the right kind of soap?
As we’re (hopefully) spending more time in front of the sink, there are a couple of things to consider beyond just maintaining good hygiene.
If wearing jewelry is part of your everyday routine, you might be wondering if you should wear it, what effect excessive hand sanitizing has (if any) and best practices for keeping yourself ― and others around you ― healthy.
Use common sense.
Lucy Wilson, a professor in the department of emergency health services at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, told HuffPost that while there is still little known about this novel coronavirus, based on information about viruses in general, it would be “reasonable to assume that it could be on any type of jewelry.” Hand-washing, then, continues to be the best line of defense.
“The overriding advice is keeping the hands washed, keeping your hands to yourself and not touching your face,” she said. “If you’re washing a lot more and wear rings, you can get irritation. So it’s not a bad idea to cut back on them if you’re trying to be really careful.”
But don’t just take off your rings without washing them.
If you’re worried about missing a spot on the hand that could be covered by a ring, it’s not a bad idea to remove it. But simply removing it is not enough.
“If rings are contaminated and you pop them back on after washing your hands, you’ve recontaminated your hands,” Wilson said. “If you’re not going to disinfect your rings, you shouldn’t be taking them off and putting them back on.”
Wilson pointed out that studies show health care workers who remove their rings and scrub them are able to get bacteria off. “That’s bacteria though, not viruses,” she clarified.
There are some pieces you might want to consider not wearing altogether.
And what about the maintenance of the jewelry itself? Jewelry historian Elizabeth Doyle, who co-owns antique jewelry boutique Doyle and Doyle in New York City, shared some insight about which materials just can’t weather all the hand-washing and sanitizing we’re all (hopefully) doing at the moment.
“Hand sanitizer should not be used on any organic gems, like coral or pearls,” Doyle said. “The alcohol in the sanitizer can dry out the gems and lead to surface damage or cracking. Hand sanitizer is also not safe on porous stones like opals or turquoise. When in doubt, it is always better to take your jewelry off before washing your hands.”
Be careful about moisturizing, too.
Moisturizing plays a crucial part in keeping hands germ-free. Hands that are cracked or dry lose their safety barrier, which could make the hand unable to absorb the antibacterial benefits of sanitizer and soap. But lotion can be problematic for items like engagement rings and other stones.
“Rings set with gems can collect lotion or debris behind the stones,” Doyle said. “It is important to keep this area clean for many reasons. That buildup can be a prime place for bacteria or irritants to collect, which can lead to skin irritations. Also, decreased airflow behind the stone can trap moisture against the finger, which is also a common cause of irritation. And buildup of debris in a jewel can lead to unnecessary wear, and even loosening of prongs, which can result in lost stones.”
When in doubt, head to the sink.
“The best, safest way to keep your jewelry clean and looking its best is to wash it using a mild dish soap,” Doyle said. “If you notice any change in your jewelry from hand sanitizer, wash the piece immediately with warm, mild dish-soapy water. This will remove any residual chemicals left from the sanitizer. Bring the piece to an experienced jeweler as soon as you can to asses the damage and discuss repairs.”