Thursday, 2 April, 2020
Many of us are following Government advice during the coronavirus pandemic and washing our hands more than ever before.
As well as staying at home, health experts believe one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection is by regular and thorough – for 20 seconds – hand washing.
But for some, repetitive handwashing is leading to problems with inflammation of the skin. As such, dermatologists are seeing a rise in conditions, such as dermatitis or eczema.
Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema triggered by contact with a particular substance. It causes the skin to become red, itchy, blistered, dry or cracked, and commonly affects the hands and face.
Dr Nicola Dann, a GP, director and founder of Commercial Occupational Health Services Ltd (COHS) said there are two types of contact dermatitis – ‘irritant’ and ‘allergic’.
Irritant dermatitis is caused by too much exposure to substances like soaps and detergents, whereas allergic dermatitis is caused by a reaction to a specific substance touching the skin.
Dr Dann said: “Preservatives in commonly used household products and moisturisers can cause allergic dermatitis. For some, this type of dermatitis can become a problem if the skin is exposed a second time to a new product or cream.
“Irritant dermatitis is very common at the moment because we are all washing our hands more often. The detergents deprive our skin of its natural oils and moisture. The longer the skin is exposed to these substances, the worse it gets.
“In an ideal world, we would avoid the problem by removing the cause, but it is imperative we all keep washing our hands to reduce the spread of infection.
“Regular and thorough hand washing with soap and water is vital in removing dirt and bacteria from our hands.”
Dr Dann has put together a few simple steps people can take.
“Skin conditions like contact dermatitis can be prevented by regular use of emollients or moisturisers, used straight after handwashing.
“Ideally use a moisturiser without Methylisothiazolinone, which can cause allergic dermatitis,” she said.
“Wearing cotton gloves at night after moisturising can help to keep the oils close to the skin and allow it to recover overnight, when we tend not to need to wash our hands.
“Steroid creams and ointments can also be really helpful in treating all types of dermatitis. 1% hydrocortisone cream can be bought over the counter and used in addition to regular moisturisers, but should only be used for a few days without asking a pharmacist or GP for advice.”
COHS is currently offering online video consultations for anyone struggling to manage their symptoms.
“We are all being advised to wash our hands so much more, both at work and at home. If any of our clients currently have staff struggling to manage their symptoms, then please do contact us for further information, advice and support,” said Dr Dann.