When treating sick patients, you wear a gown, gloves and a mask. You follow the World Health Organization’s My 5 Moments for Hand Hygiene and you’re careful to sanitize after touching common “high touch” spots such as elevator buttons, railings and door handles. You’ll even handwash if you think you hear someone coughing nearby. But all those precautions are doing a number on your hands.
Frequent handwashing and sanitizing practices can cause hands to be dry, cracked and sore. Coupled with cold temperatures and a low relative humidity, and you’ve got a recipe for extra dry skin, which could result in dermatitis.
Skin diseases such as occupational dermatitis have been found to represent almost 15 percent of workplace injuries, making it one of the most common occupational disorders. Defined as inflammation of the skin caused by the working environment or by skin contact with a damaging substance, contact dermatitis’ symptoms can vary from redness and irritation, to swelling, peeling and blisters.
In healthcare workers, dermatitis is both uncomfortable and painful, not to mention dangerous. Soaps and detergents used in frequent handwashing can damage the top protective layer of skin, causing it to dry and crack, making it more susceptible to the many pathogens and infections floating around hospital settings. In addition to increased susceptibility and personL danger, cracked hands can be a barrier to proper hygiene, and when poorly maintained can negatively impact patient safety.
So, what’s a frequent-handwashing, infection prevention-conscious healthcare worker to do? Simple. Use lotion.
But not just any lotion will do in a healthcare setting. The CDC recommends facilities provide a healthcare-grade lotion for their caregivers. Consumer-grade hand lotions are not formulated for use in healthcare settings and have the potential to create dangerous consequences if not compatible with some antibacterial washes and rubs. In addition, many common ingredients in consumer lotions contain mineral oil and petrolatum, which have been shown to contribute to latex glove deterioration.
Also be sure to educate coworkers about the importance of skin health and the steps they can take to ensure healthy skin not only during winter months, but year-round. Also encourage discussions about which products should and shouldn’t be used, and why, as well as the proper techniques for application and frequency of use.
If you are suffering from occupational dermatitis, or even dry skin, make sure you take care of yourself – and your hands. Show your hands devotion and use lotion throughout the day!