Protect yourself from dermatitis

Don’t underestimate the importance of using moisturisers and correct hand hygiene procedures

Don’t underestimate the importance of using moisturisers and following hand hygiene procedures

Picture: Science Photo Library

Nurses top the list of professionals who suffer from work-related dermatitis of the hands.

The condition often leads to nursing staff being unable to work in a clinical area because cracked and weeping skin on their hands poses an infection risk to patients and themselves.

Hand dermatitis can be debilitating and painful, and at a time of severe nurse shortages we cannot afford to lose experienced nurses to such preventable conditions.

Cold weather care

When temperatures drop it becomes even more important to care for the skin on your hands, as cold weather can increase dryness of the skin.

Nursing staff expose their hands to a mixture of substances that can cause irritation or allergic reactions. Frequent handwashing, as well as cleaning chemicals, in the home and at work are known causes.

Wearing gloves in clinical practice can exacerbate problems. Gloved hands become sweaty, which can cause the skin to become soggy and damage the protective barrier. Chemicals known as accelerators, which are added to the lining of gloves to improve elasticity, can cause reactions in some people.

Importance of moisturisers

Under health and safety legislation, employers have a responsibility to prevent skin problems. This could mean coordinating a programme of skin checks, providing information and training, and making suitable hand moisturisers or emollients available for use at work, either in pump dispensers or tubes for individual use.

‘Ideally, you should moisturise between hand washes, when going for a break and at the end of your shift’

Individuals can play a role by protecting their hands both in and out of work. The importance of using moisturisers cannot be overstated.

Moisturise as often as you can when off work, wear warm gloves if outside in the cold and household gloves when using cleaning products at home. This applies even when washing the dishes, as detergents can irritate the skin.

When at work follow correct hand hygiene procedures, such as wetting your hands before applying soap and patting the skin dry using soft, absorbent paper towel.

When to wear gloves

Hand sanitising products such as alcohol-based hand rubs are an alternative to soap and water, and provide effective and efficient hand hygiene for many indications. In the past these were thought to contribute to skin disruption, but improved formulations that include emollients mean there are now few contraindications to their use

Ideally, you should moisturise between hand washes, when going for a break and at the end of your shift.

Wear gloves only when it is appropriate to do so, such as to protect from exposure to blood and body fluids or hazardous substances.

Early warning signs

Finally, keep an eye out for the early warning signs of hand dermatitis: dryness, redness, itchiness and cracks appearing in the skin. Seek advice from your occupational health provider or GP if you notice symptoms.

Last year the RCN launched the first ever guidance on glove use and skin care for Glove Awareness Week. We will be repeating it this year, from 29 April to 3 May. Keep an eye out for further information, and if you want to get involved visit the Glove Awareness Week site (see below).

Kim Sunley is a national officer at the Royal College of Nursing



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