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Managing occupational skin disorders this winter

10 December 2019

Perhaps a little-known fact, the skin is actually the largest organ in the body. It performs essential functions for the body, including regulating temperature, sensing heat, cold and pressure.

It forms a protective barrier against exposure to chemicals, microbes and other contaminants in our environment. Providing such an essential role, it is crucial that the skin is cared for.

During the winter months, the elements can be especially harsh on the skin and hands for those who work outdoors in particular. The number of occupational skin disorders (OSDs) is widely underestimated, despite them being extremely common – the European Dermatology Forum estimates that the scale of the problem is underestimated by up to 10 to 50 times. Skin care experts SC Johnson Professional run through the associated symptoms, raising awareness of how best to prevent and treat skin disorders is key for those who work with their hands.

The science behind the skin

The skin is made up of three main layers, with the epidermis forming the upper layer. The outside of the epidermis is just 0.03-0.25mm thick and forms the main barrier against contaminants, whilst also preventing moisture loss. Easily damaged, this part of the skin can take up to 6 weeks to be repaired. Even over-washing or using an excessively harsh cleanser for the level of soiling can be detrimental to the skin.

What to look out for

The most common reason for OSDs is contact with contaminants. Oil, grease, dirt and grime can cause dryness and irritation if in direct contact with the skin, and for outdoor workers, cold or wet conditions can also increase moisture loss, and thus dryness in the hands especially.

Red, irritated and dry skin is often considered an occupational hazard for many people who work with their hands, but skin problems can have severe, visible consequences for businesses and individuals. According to the European Agency for Safety and Health, the estimated cost of OSDs in the EU is in excess of £500m per year, with around 3 million lost working days each year. 

Sore, cracked fingers and hands, along with other symptoms of painful skin disorders, can restrict hand mobility and the ability to carry out everyday activities, such as gripping tools or operating machinery. Simple tasks around the home, such as making a cup of tea, opening jars, and even turning taps can become an impossible or stressful challenge, putting strain on social and family relationships.

Disposable gloves can often be the first port of call when it comes to protecting the hands from these contaminants and can be very effective. However, they do not prevent the development of skin problems themselves.

Protecting against skin issues at work

By taking a proactive approach to skin health, it is possible to mitigate against and prevent OSDs. Skin care specialists SC Johnson Professional recommend the following steps to employees:

  • Before applying hand cleaner, consider the kind of soiling on the skin. SC Johnson Professional’s Power Foams, for example, are available in gritty or non-gritty. GFX, the gritty cleaner, contains natural, non-abrasive scrubbers and can be used for more ingrained soilings.

  • Don’t reach for the harshest cleaner! There is a common misconception that heavy scrubbers are necessary to clean the skin. For GFX, the heavier duty cleaner, most of the cleaning power comes from the soap; natural scrubbers are added to aid the removal of more stubborn soilings from the skin. 

  • Protection cream should always be applied before work – this will make the hands easier to clean at the end of a shift and strengthen the skin. This in turn, is kinder on the skin in cold weather.

  • Moisturising cream should be applied after a shift, which will help replenish the skin and restore its essential oils.

For more information on SC Johnson Professional’s skin care innovations, best practice and the Power Foams range, click here.