Working Healthy

A Doctor’s Advice on Soothing Irritated Hands

Portland, Ore.-based dermatologist Patricia Norris offers advice on dermatitis, hand-washing, moisturizers, and glove use.

Dr. Norris
<p>Dr. Norris</p>

As nail techs know only too well, hands that are subjected to frequent hand-washing and glove use all day can become irritated. “Over-exposure to water, friction, dry air, soaps, detergents, solvents, cleaning agents, personal care products, and chemicals used in the workplace are all potential causes of hand rashes and hand dermatitis,” says Patricia Norris, M.D., a Portland, Ore.-based dermatologist and assistant professor in dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University. There are many different types of hand dermatitis, she notes, including irritant hand dermatitis, atopic hand dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, frictional hand dermatitis, and dyshidrotic hand dermatitis. “Once the skin becomes red and dry, even so-called ‘harmless’ things — like water from frequent hand-washing — can be irritating rather than soothing,” she says. Below are some of her tips to keep your hands in tiptop shape.

Hand-Washing:

> Remove your rings from your fingers when washing your hands. Trapped soap and moisture underneath jewelry can cause irritation. Use lukewarm water and rinse hands thoroughly after washing with soap.

> Avoid detergents, perfumed soaps, harsh soaps, and deodorant soaps. When these products are used excessively, they can cause more dryness by reducing the natural oils in your skin. Instead, try soaps that contain moisturizers, such as CeraVe, Cetaphil, and Vanicream. Whenever possible, wash with Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser or Aquanil Cleanser in place of water. These products are designed for use on sensitive skin and are soap- and lipid-free. They do not need to be washed off with water. When drying your hands, blot dry with a towel.

> Immediately apply a greasy moisturizer. While your skin is still damp, the moisturizer will penetrate better. Use products such as plain Vaseline petroleum jelly, CeraVe, Cetaphil Cream, or Vanicream.

Creams, Lotions, and Moisturizers:

The rule of thumb for moisturizers is the greasier the product, the better it is at moisturizing. Cream-based moisturizers should be applied immediately after hand-washing, bathing, and removing gloves. One of the best products you can use is an ointment-based product such as white petrolatum jelly (Vaseline). In addition, you can help significantly reduce any dryness and/or irritation with the night-time use of white petrolatum jelly. Apply it to the hands, then cover them with cotton gloves.

Lotion-based products are the least effective. Lotions evaporate from the skin, as opposed to “rubbing-in.” Many lotions have up to 80% water as their main ingredient. The evaporation from the water in a lotion may cause more drying of the skin over time.

Glove Use:

Gloves are very helpful in protecting your hands from exposure to irritating chemicals and water. However, if you wear the gloves for extended periods of time, your hands may sweat, and this sweating may worsen hand dermatitis or hand eczema.

Many people think they are allergic to latex when their hands break out from glove use. But often the rash from gloves is an irritation from wetting and drying inside the glove and not a true allergy. Allergy to latex is very serious and can lead to a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. Allergic contact dermatitis from gloves appears as a rash on the top of the hands that is itchy and weepy and lasts for days to weeks. Allergic contact dermatitis from gloves is often due to one of the chemicals used to process both latex and nitrile (synthetic) gloves. Patch testing helps sort this problem out.

I recommend wearing a glove that is allergen-free, like N-Dex Free Nitrile Glove or N-Dex Nighthawk Nitrile Glove. (Avoid powdered and latex gloves.) I also recommend wearing a cotton liner inside the rubber glove (available at www.myskinallergy.com).

Dr. Norris offers more skin care advice at www.patricianorris.com/blog.

 

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