Working Healthy

Protecting Working Hands

Protecting oneself against chemical absorption at the salon starts with the simple practice of wearing gloves, or applying a barrier cream, or both.

Just as safety gates are barriers designed to keep precocious toddlers away from harmful objects, skin barrier creams and gloves help protect hands from harsh chemicals, which can cause contact dermatitis or an allergic reaction, among other maladies.

Unlike gloves, a skin barrier cream lets your skin breathe and perspire normally without clogging pores or affecting the sense of touch. Barrier creams create an invisible barrier between skin and the chemicals and solutions.

How effective are barrier creams in preventing skin disorders and allergic reactions when working with nail products? “They are effective if used correctly” says Doug Schoon, chemist and director of R8dD for Creative Nail Design (Vista, Calif.). “If a nail technician has developed an allergic reaction, using a barrier cream can help reduce contact with the offending product and help speed the healing process.”

When using a barrier cream, don’t touch your client’s fingernails or your brush hairs because the cream will contaminate both. Since barrier creams are designed to resist chemical penetration, they can also cause artificial nails to lift if they come in contact with them.

Bob Kissinger, national sales manager at Allied Cosmetics Group (Berwyn, Pa.), explains barrier creams this way: “It’s an invisible glove.” A good barrier cream won’t irritate or dry skin and should help prevent chapping and cracking. Barrier creams allow you to have a better grip and surface adhesion when properly applied, he adds.

Nail technicians can become sensitized to products and have allergic reactions on their hands and arms due to contact with nail products, says Jeffrey Lauber, M.D., a dermatologist and medical director of the Advanced Skin Treatment Center of Orange County (Newport Beach, Calif.). For this reason, Lauber recommends that nail technicians wear gloves over a barrier cream.

Schoon advises buying nitrile, latex, or vinyl gloves powdered on the inside to make them easier to get on and off and keep hands dry. But powder does have its downside. “Many people are allergic to the corn starch found in powder,” says Schoon. Overall, Schoon says nitrile gloves are a good choice because they are highly chemical resistant, allow greater dexterity, and have a low potential for adverse reactions.

Also, the thicker the glove, the better protection it is going to be, he adds, although he doesn’t recommend buying bulky gloves because they’re clumsy and can actually become a safety hazard.

“If you wear gloves, buy disposable ones because no glove is going to protect against chemicals indefinitely,” says Schoon. “Eventually, the chemical will absorb through to the other side of the glove.”

A reusable glove, on the other hand, tends to be thicker than a disposable one, says Terry Monda, sales manager at ETI in Phoenix, Ariz., a company that manufactures a powder-free, black latex glove. “Powder-free makes it more hypoallergenic and black doesn’t show stains,” says Monda.

If technicians use gloves, they need to choose them carefully because some rubber gloves are made with sulfur compounds, which can aggravate contact dermatitis in people who already have a problem. Choose a different type of glove if you have an existing problem.

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