Eczema of the hands, also known as hand dermatitis, is a common condition that affects 10% of us in the UK. Contact allergens, genetics and irritating substances, all play a role in triggering this type of eczema. People who work in cleaning, catering, hairdressing, medical or mechanical jobs, where they may often come into contact with harsh chemicals and other irritants, are particularly susceptible. Hand eczema is not contagious. That said, the symptoms of dermatitis can feel incredibly uncomfortable in the presence of others, they can certainly impact our self-esteem.
In the current climate, avoiding soaps and hand gels is simply not an option. So, what measures can we take to look after our skin?
- Avoid allergens or irritating substances in products you use at work - industrial hand cleansers might trigger your hand eczema, or exacerbate it
- Pat hands dry with a soft cotton towel after washing. Ensure they’re fully dry, but don’t rub the skin which can break the surface and irritate it further
- Keep a little personal care pack with you including a gentle soap cleanser, natural hydrating cream and soft cotton gloves
- Ensure surfaces, keyboards and tools are free of residue from irritating chemical substances
- Protect your hands at work whenever possible with cotton glove liners and heavy duty protective over-gloves. Regularly wash your cotton gloves in gentle detergent if they’re not disposable
- If you injure your hands or fingers, apply a plaster or bandage to prevent irritation from allergens
- Besides paying attention to the ingredients in your lotions, opt for gentle shampoos and body washes
What to Avoid
According to a study in the Journal of Women’s Health, there is strong evidence to suggest that the petroleum based ingredients included in many skincare products are the greatest contaminant of the human body. Petroleum (or mineral oil as it’s sometimes labelled) is “occlusive", which means it effectively creates a seal across the skins surface, preventing air, water or anything else getting in or out. This invisible film blocks pores and our skin's natural ability to balance oils. Putting a petroleum based product on inflamed or damaged skin can lock heat in, creating considerable discomfort. Doing so could also potentially lead to the problem of permanent scarring.
There are two other chemicals commonly used in hand washes, which you should be aware of. The first of these is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). This is the stuff that creates a rich lather when you add water. It’s essentially a foaming agent used in many personal care products. It’s commonly found in shampoos, shower gels even our toothpaste, in fact pretty much anything that foams. Many of us are sensitive to SLS and may experience skin dryness or contact dermatitis after using products containing it. Despite being present in so many products, almost 16,000 studies reference its toxicity.
The second, and equally troublesome ingredient, is Triclosan. On the plus side, this antibacterial agent also offers some anti-fungal and antiviral properties. Not only is it used in over half of all commercial liquid soaps on the market, it is also found in mouthwash, shaving creams and deodorants. Its purpose is to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination, but whilst it’s great at killing germs it simultaneously disrupts our skins microbiome. In fact a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, shows how this chemical can wreak havoc with the community of good gut bacteria in mice. The paper adds to mounting evidence that Triclosan is unsafe. Although it’s too soon to know whether it has the same effects on the human gut, the study certainly makes the case for further examining its link to irritable bowel disease and colon cancer.
Fragrances are complex combinations. They’re natural and/or synthetic substances, that are added to many hand wash gels and lotions to give them their distinctive smell. Next time you test out a hand cream, notice your subliminal response. I guarantee one of the first things you will do is sniff it! Scents tug on our heartstrings, they paint pictures and elicit emotions, this is why fragrance is such an important ingredient for many skincare manufacturers. Whilst fragrance may help a product smell divine, if you’re struggling with sensitive hands it’s best to opt for fragrance-free or a fragrance that’s certified ‘declarable allergen free’.
There’s a balance to be struck when it comes to choosing our hand soap. On the one hand it’s particularly vital, in the current climate, to pick a product that cleans effectively. Those brands usually contain some form of harsh chemical. On the other hand, repeated use of these gels strips our skin of its natural oils, creating cuts and sores and leaving us susceptible to infection.
Fairy’s new liquid soap ‘Pure & Clean’ does not include any perfumes or dyes, and it's approved by the Skin Health Alliance. If you’re searching for something truly gentle, look for a hand soap free from synthetic detergents and preservatives. There are plenty of plant-based, cruelty-free options available online, plus many of the ingredients used by these brands are biodegradable, so their products are safer for the planet too.
You may also notice, most natural washes come fortified with nourishing ingredients such as organic essential oils, aloe vera, chamomile and calendula, all of which replenish our hands to keep skin feeling soothed and soft.
Moisturising with an excellent, natural cream is equally crucial. My Hanna Sillitoe Chia Seed Body Cream (as seen in the video above)