With the continued UK lockdown keeping most of us at home and wanting to avoid unnecessary trips to the GP or pharmacy, it’s sensible to have a well-stocked medicine cabinet.
Treating minor illnesses, injuries and ailments at home, when appropriate, can help to take some pressure off GPs and pharmacists, and having the right kit to hand could help you avoid an unexpected trip out for supplies.
But buying a pre-packed first aid kit is unlikely to be your best bet. Our research has shown that some items are unnecessary and there often aren’t enough of the things you’re likely to need most often.
We asked pharmacists which first aid products are really useful, and which ones you don’t need, and then did our own pricing research to find out where you can get what you need for less.
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Ready-made first aid kits vs DIY versions
Don’t be tempted to buy a ready-made first aid kit – the pharmacists we spoke to told us that they’re generally poor value.
This is because they:
- Often contain things you’re unlikely to need – such as foil blankets.
- Tend to omit several useful items that our pharmacists recommend – such as hydrocortisone cream and a thermometer.
- Only have small quantities of things you’ll probably need most often – such as plasters.
Ready-made kits can seem cheaper and come in a handy container, but compiling your own means you’re likely to get more for your money, and you can choose what you actually need.
For example, the Boots Family Essentials First Aid kit is £6.99, but once you add the products our pharmacists recommend you have at home, it would cost you £20.55 at Boots (excluding a thermometer which ranges quite a bit in price). It also contains only a handful of essentials like plasters and antiseptic wipes.
What you need in a home first aid kit
We asked two pharmacists what they’d recommend people have in a home first aid kit, and they recommended the 11 products below.
These will cover you for a range of everyday ailments and are more likely to be used than some of what you get in a pre-made first aid kit.
Pre-made first aid kits do tend to contain a small booklet with advice on how to treat common ailments, which you might find useful. But you could instead download a first aid app from a trusted organisation, such as the Red Cross or St John Ambulance, to consult on your phone.
What’s missing from pre-made first aid kits?
Products that our pharmacists recommend you keep as part of your first aid kit, but that aren’t included in most pre-made versions, include painkillers, hydrocortisone cream and anti-diarrhoea medication (loperamide capsules).
These items are likely to come in handy more often than some of the things that bulk out pre-made kits.
Pre-made first-aid kits often contain things such as eye wash, ice packs, foil blankets and burn gel. These are less necessary, as the injuries they’re intended for are less common and can be treated in other ways.
- You can soothe minor burns with cool running water (which you should do before applying burn gel anyway), and cover them with a sterile dressing, or a piece of clean plastic kitchen wrap if you have it.
- Rinse irritated eyes with clean tap water instead of the saline eye wash you get in pre-made kits.
- Frozen veg such as peas, or some ice cubes in a plastic bag can double as an ice pack if needed.
- A foil blanket is only likely to be of use if you’re planning a trip into the wilderness. If you think someone has hypothermia or is in shock, it’s best to follow NHS advice.
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Head to the supermarket for cheap first aid kit essentials
It’s generally cheaper to shop at supermarkets or discount stores than at big pharmacy chains for your home health essentials.
We found that Tesco was the cheapest place to pick up all the items in our essential first aid list. It cost just over £15, compared with £26 for similar own-brand items at Boots.
Asda and Morrisons were slightly cheaper than Tesco – both around £13 – but didn’t stock one of the items in our kit (skin closures).
Discount stores had some of the lowest prices, but you might have to shop around a bit more to get everything you need, as none of them had everything on the list.
Keep an eye out for offers at Boots and Superdrug
Pharmacy chains may be better value when offers are on. When we tracked offers over the course of a year, we saw that Boots had plasters on promotion 64% of the time, and Superdrug 47% of the time.
Often these are on multi-buy offers, such as three for two, which could be handy if you want to compile a few different types for a first-aid kit, such as waterproof, blister and fabric plasters.
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Four first aid products you don’t need
We were surprised to find that some items that many of us consider staples of the medicine cabinet aren’t actually necessary.
Here are four products that our expert pharmacists revealed aren’t as essential as you might think:
1. Fluid replacement sachets
It’s important to rehydrate if you’ve been struck down with diarrhoea. But our pharmacists said that most people who are otherwise fit and healthy don’t really need specific rehydration sachets such as Dioralyte (£3.79 for six sachets). Simply drinking plenty of water should do the job.
Pharmacist Jane Ward told us: ‘Fluid-replacement sachets may have a place when vomiting occurs with diarrhoea, but they aren’t essential. The exception is children and the elderly, who can become dehydrated more quickly than others, so they may be useful for these groups.’
You can easily make your own homemade version, too: mix two heaped teaspoons of sugar and three finger-pinches of salt in water that’s been boiled then cooled.
2. Antiseptic cream
Antiseptic cream, such as Savlon (£2.85 for 60g), is a pretty common addition to your home health arsenal, so it might come as a surprise to learn that our pharmacists deemed it an unnecessary expense.
Pharmacist Michael Line said: ‘Soap and water is all you need to clean a wound (or an antiseptic wipe if you’re away from home). If the wound does become infected, over-the-counter antiseptic creams are of no value at this stage.’
What’s more, applying an antiseptic on an open cut may lead to skin irritation in some people. Jane Ward advises that ‘making any wound clean and free from debris is the best course of action in all cases’, followed by applying a clean and dry dressing to help the wound heal naturally.
Savlon told us that its cream is approved by the MHRA for the prevention of infection, and while it agrees that cleansing with soap and water may be sufficient in many cases, Savlon provides an extra level of assurance.
3. Antihistamine cream
Antihistamine creams, such as Anthisan, are marketed for bite and sting relief, but our experts say you’d be better off using a mild steroid cream – such as hydrocortisone – instead.
Jane explains that ‘antihistamine creams are only marginally effective, and occasionally cause hypersensitivity if applied to irritated skin. If an antihistamine is required to reduce the reaction to an insect bite, it’s better to take an antihistamine tablet.’
Hydrocortisone cream (included in our first aid kit) is a more effective anti-inflammatory. Bear in mind that, as it contains a small amount of steroids, it shouldn’t be used for children without consulting a GP first, and shouldn’t be used daily for consecutive weeks at a time, as it can cause the skin to thin.
Supermarket own-brand versions are the best value: Boots own-brand hydrocortisone cream is £3.89 for 10g, whereas Asda sells a 10g version for just £1.50.
It’s not necessary to pay out for a dedicated aftersun lotion. Nivea and Boots Soltan Aftersun lotions are both £4 for 200ml but, in practice, a standard moisturiser should provide the same relief by hydrating and soothing your skin.
Aloe vera can help to cool sunburned skin, but no product can undo the damage caused by the sunburn in the first place, so it’s best to protect yourself with sun cream.
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