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What is Contact Dermatitis?

What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact Dermatitis is a term used to describe the itchy skin reaction that can occur following topical contact with allergy-producing chemicals in the environment.

Our skin serves as a protective barrier but when this barrier is damaged foreign substances can penetrate the skin that causes the immune cells to take action resulting in inflammation. The condition can develop from chemical or physical contact with an irritating substance on the skin surface which causes damage to the skin barrier resulting in an impaired skin barrier and red itchy skin rashes.

The most common form of dermatitis is Irritant Contact Dermatitis that can develop as a result of contact between the skin and irritating chemicals like soap, alcohol sanitisers or harsh household chemicals. When the outer skin barrier is damaged these substances are able to break through the barrier and stimulate skin inflammation.

It is therefore not surprising that thousands of nurses develop work related contact dermatitis – in fact their risk is seven times higher than the average for all professions according to the Health and Safety Executive. Frequent exposure to soap and chemicals, the use of alcohol based sanitisers and repetitive hand washing (nurses wash their hands hundreds of times a day) to ensure NHS hand hygiene rules are followed can result in dry cracked skin and conditions like contact dermatitis.

What is Contact Dermatitis?
Contact Dermatitis is a term used to describe the itchy skin reaction that can occur following topical contact

Another at risk group are hairdressers. Frequent contact with latex found in protective gloves, the harsh peroxide chemicals used for treatments and working with wet hands all contribute to skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and irritant contact dermatitis. In fact many hairdressers have to leave the profession due to the pain and discomfort of contact dermatitis.

Other triggers which can bring on dermatitis include certain metals like nickel and chromium. Nickel allergy is extremely common among adults and children. It is found in a range of metallic items, such as jewellery, zippers, buttons, needles and coins resulting in rashes and irritation for those with sensitive skin. Seamstresses can often suffer with nickel related skin problems.

Chromium salts, often found in paints, cement, and leather products may induce irritant contact dermatitis and builders and artists will often suffer with skin problems due to exposure to these irritants.

How is contact dermatitis treated?

The best relief from contact dermatitis is to avoid the source of the problem but this is not always practical so when dealing with harsh chemicals good quality protective gloves should always be worn.

some hairdressers dislike using latex gloves whilst doing treatments as the gloves can often snag the hair and of course nurses need to constantly wash and gel their hands

However, some hairdressers dislike using latex gloves whilst doing treatments as the gloves can often snag the hair and of course nurses need to constantly wash and gel their hands. One option for dermatitis treatment is to use a barrier cream but these are often greasy and not that practical. A good alternative is a Shielding Lotion like Gloves In A Bottle. This is works by enhancing the skin’s natural barrier by bonding with the outer layer of skin cells. It is waterproof and fragrance free and lasts up to 4 hours. The good news for nurses and healthcare workers is that it is compatible with alcohol based sanitisers so hands can remain protected but also germ free in line with hand hygiene protocol.

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(image credits Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash Photo by Fran Jacquier on Unsplash)