How Frequent Hand Washing Can Cause Dermatitis

How Frequent Hand Washing Can Cause Dermatitis

People who are highly exposed to infections, such as health care workers are encouraged to wash their hands to protect them and patients from infections. 

However, according to a report by EHS Today, frequent hand washing, more than 10 times a day, poses the risk of developing contact hand dermatitis. 

These findings call for a better understanding of the causes and symptoms of dermatitis arising from frequent hand washing, preventative measures, and associated risk factors.

Frequent hand washing and dermatitis

Irritant effect

People who wash their hands several times a day can develop rashes arising from irritation. According to a study done on 1,300 people experiencing hand rashes, skin irritation was the contributing factor, at 35%. Another about 20% were suffering from atopic dermatitis, while the other 19% had allergic contact dermatitis.

Alcohol-based hand soaps and sanitizers

These types of cleansers are not to blame for contact dermatitis, at least not entirely. Although these components can cause stinging and a burning effect, this feeling is usually because the skin is already broken and irritated.

Chemicals in soaps and moisturizers

soap

Frequent hand-washing with these products can cause exposure to toxic materials, leading to the development of irritant contact dermatitis. Cleansers and moisturizers have parabens and other substances, which cause hand rashes. Fragrances in hand washing products are also linked to atopic dermatitis hands.

Allergies and stress

Washing hands frequently can also cause dyshidrotic eczema (also known as pompholyx). This condition affects fingers and palms, but the highest exposure is among people who have allergies or who perform stressful activities.

Weather

People who work under wet and low-humidity conditions are also predisposed to skin reactions and, subsequently, hand dermatitis. For instance, health workers in such weather conditions are still required to wash hands frequently, hence, increasing the risk of developing rashes, itching, and burning sensation.

Symptoms of dermatitis as a result of frequent hand washing

Dermatitis arising from frequent hand washing is diagnosed using the following signs and symptoms:

  • Redness, cracking, adverse thickening of palms, blisters, burning and flaking
  • Itching and pain, especially on the back of hands and in between the fingers
  • Rashes lasting for almost a year and worsening during cold or dry seasons

Prevention and treatment for dermatitis

Moisturizers

Moisturize hands repeatedly throughout the day, after completing a work shift, and before bed. You can use ointment-based moisturizers, which can be bought over-the-counter. Use those which are labeled as suitable for dry hands.

A good quality hand cream that provides moisturisation using natural biometric plant lipid complexes and skin relief ingredients like shea butter, argan oil, etc can be used. Additionally, try to pick a product that provides antiviral and antibacterial properties along with moisturisation. 

Moisturizers help to repair damages to the outer skin caused by frequent hand washing. They also lock moisture inside, hence, preventing hand dermatitis.

Reduce exposure to irritants

You can reduce the number of times you wash hands and supplement with alcohol-free hand sanitizers. Use soap and water when hands are visibly dirty.

Ointment-based emollients or topical corticosteroid creams

Emollients (medical moisturizers) and topical corticosteroid creams are recommended for contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic dermatitis, or atopic dermatitis hands. 

They should be applied on hands immediately after exposure to frequent washing, but before the skin goes completely dry. This practice can help to prevent rapid cracking and drying.

Latex, cotton, vinyl, or rubber gloves

People who have to wash hands frequently or who perform wet work can reduce the risk of developing dermatitis by wearing either of these types of gloves. The objective is to prevent the dampening effect due to perspiration.

Hands are also subjected to frequent washing when cleaning dishes or when shampooing hair. One can protect exposure to dermatitis when performing these chores by wearing latex or rubber gloves.

Cotton gloves should still be changed frequently for prolonged periods of wet work. They can also be worn beneath vinyl and rubber gloves for frequent hand washing.

Use topical steroids sparingly

You can substitute emollients with topical steroids but only for a while. According to research, the use of chronic topical steroids, such as Clobetasol propionate and Amcinonide can aggravate tearing and bruising, and skin thinning. They can also lower the ability of the skin to tolerate irritants.

Patients should seek the advice of a dermatologist for the right treatment of dermatitis caused by frequent hand washing. People working in environments where they are constantly touching water should prioritize medical treatment for hand dermatitis before using other preventative measures.

Risk factors linked to dermatitis arising from frequent hand washing

Frequent hand washing can enhance the risk of developing contact dermatitis. Research by Oxford Academic shows that this condition accounts for 70-90% of all occupational skin diseases.

Dermatitis hands are also linked to impaired quality of life for workers. It can promote absenteeism and even unemployment. These side effects call for primary prevention of hand dermatitis in all exposed occupations.

Takeaway

Dermatitis caused by frequent hand washing is a common condition among health care workers and people whose jobs demand constant exposure to water.

 Irritants, allergies, and chemicals found in soaps and detergents can aggravate redness, itching, and rashes on palms and the skin around hands. 

Despite the many preventative options available, workers in wet environments should seek medical treatment for the disease.

The use of hand creams that provide dual purposes of moisturisation and sanitization is recommended.

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WRITTEN BY

Coreenna Ong

Head of Research

Coreenna Ong has more than 20 years of extensive experiences in research and development, conceptualization, formulation, production process development and bring to market skincare products in the beauty industry. Ms Ong is currently the Director, Research and Development at Recherché skincare.

Recherché is a Singapore cosmeceutical skincare brand, with its products clean, green, plant-based and specially catered for Asian skin. It is also the pioneer in developing edible skincare actives to specifically address skin concerns.

Within just 2 years, Ms Ong’s research has led Recherché to win several awards and accolades for its products.

Ms Ong’s research focuses on harnessing the latest formulation technologies, knowledge and techniques to distil and extract nature's essence, and then apply them synergistically for maximum results.

She has authored 2 best-selling Beauty and Wellness books with Marshall Cavendish. The books had multiple runs and remained popular and in print circulation for several years. They are currently available in the Singapore National Library collection.

Ms Ong was also a Beauty columnist for Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore's largest Chinese-language newspaper publication, with huge regional presence. As its weekly expert contributor, she shared the latest research and technologies from the Beauty industry, and addressed the many skincare issues and concerns of the newspaper's readers regionally, including offering beauty tips, quick fixes and insider knowledge.

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