How to reduce hand dermatitis

Hand dermatitis is a common condition affecting up to 10% of the population.  Some occupations, including working in health and social care, make us more vulnerable to dermatitis. The most common causes are working with wet hands and contact with liquid soaps and/or cleaning materials. 

Dermatitis is easier to treat if found early. If you find your skin on your hands, wrists or forearms gets worse and you experience cracking or bleeding please inform your manager straight away and contact your organisational Occupational Health Department or your GP for advice as soon as possible.

Important information for health and social care staff

Good hand care and simple precautions can reduce your risk of developing a work-related skin problem

To reduce the risk of skin irritation:

  • use liquid soap and water only when hands are visibly soiled or dirty - remember you need to wash your hands for at least 20 to 30 seconds
  • use alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) for routine hand cleansing
  • ABHR are gentler on the skin than soap and water because they do not strip away the natural oils/lipid layer (WHO). If you have skin that is already damaged by wet work, ABHR will sting, but continued use over a couple of days can allow the natural oils to replenish themselves
  • when wet washing of the hands is required please ensure to:
    • always wet hands prior to applying liquid soap
    • rinse your hands thoroughly to ensure removal of all traces of product
    • thoroughly dry your hands by patting dry, don’t rub!
  • use a non-perfumed, water based ‘emollient’ moisturiser - these should be readily available within the workplace. These creams help to reduce dryness and make the skin less susceptible to irritation
  • try to use a moisturiser/emollient at least twice a day and more often if you suffer from dry skin or dermatitis. Also remember to moisturise regularly at home
  • do not use communal tubs of hand cream, as this is an infection control risk
  • don’t wear jewellery. If you must wear a plain wedding band, ensure to thoroughly rinse and dry beneath it to prevent a build-up of skin irritants
  • only wear gloves where necessary and in line with your role as identified in your work procedures/policies and local risk assessment
    • avoid latex and powdered gloves
    • ensure skin is dry before donning gloves
    • wear the correct size of glove
    • avoid wearing gloves for prolonged periods of time
  • remember to take care of your skin outside of work for example when gardening, household chores or hobbies

Important information for non-health and social care staff

To reduce the risk of skin irritation:

  • use liquid soap and water to perform hand hygiene for instance after you have been to the toilet, before handling food and eating, or after smoking - not an full list - remember you need to wash your hands for at least 20 to 30 seconds
  • use alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) if hands are clean and if hand washing is not available – remember to wash with soap and water then at the first opportunity
  • ABHR are gentler on the skin than soap and water because they do not strip away the natural oils/lipid layer (WHO). If you have skin that is already damaged by wet work, ABHR will sting, but continued use over a couple of days can allow the natural oils to replenish themselves
  • when wet washing of the hands is required please ensure to:
    • always wet hands prior to applying liquid soap
    • rinse your hands thoroughly to ensure removal of all traces of product
    • thoroughly dry your hands by patting dry, don’t rub!
  • use a non-perfumed, personal - do not share with others, water based ‘emollient’ moisturiser at least twice a day and more often if you suffer from dry skin or dermatitis. These creams help to reduce dryness and make the skin less susceptible to irritation
  • only wear gloves where necessary and in line with your role as identified in your work procedures/policies and local risk assessment
    • avoid latex and powdered gloves
    • ensure skin is dry before donning gloves
    • wear the correct size of glove
    • avoid wearing gloves for prolonged periods of time
  • remember to take care of your skin outside of work for example when gardening, household chores or hobbies