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How to Prevent Contact Dermatitis at Work

Contact dermatitis is a condition of the skin that occurs when the skin reacts to a particular substance whether an irritant or an allergen.

contact dermatitisIt is a common condition, but especially so among people who regularly use or come into contact with substances that are known skin irritants or allergens as part of their job.

In this post we’ll look at the two different types of contact dermatitis and their common causes, and how to prevent contact dermatitis at work.

The differences between irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis

An irritant is a substance that damages the skin, whereas an allergen is a substance that can cause the body to act in an abnormal way.

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when your skin makes contact with a substance that damages its outer layers, which results in redness, itching, and a sensation of burning or stinging. It can be caused by frequent exposure to a weaker irritant, such as a particular handwash product or antibacterial cleaner, or just by one occasion of contact with a more potent irritant, and the symptoms can be made worse by heat, cold, friction and dry air.

The following substances are common causes of irritant contact dermatitis at work:

  • Soaps and detergents
  • Antiseptics, antibacterials and disinfectants
  • Solvents
  • Machine oils
  • Acids and alkalis
  • Cement, powders, dust and soil
  • Hard, chalky or heavily chlorinated water

People who already have eczema are more likely to get irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is very common among those in occupations such as chemical workers, cleaners, construction workers, metal and electronics workers, and machine operators, mechanics and vehicle assemblers.

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes into contact with a substance that triggers your immune system to react in an abnormal way, which results in sore and inflamed skin. You won’t get a reaction the first time that your skin comes into contact with an allergen; it is only from the second time that you will see the symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis appear.

The below substances are common causes of allergic contact dermatitis in workers:

  • Metals
  • Rubber
  • Textiles
  • Strong glues

How to prevent contact dermatitis

contact dermatitis

The most effective way of dealing with contact dermatitis at work is to take thorough precautions to prevent coming into contact with irritants or allergens. You should already be aware of the potential skin irritants or allergens that you could face in your occupation, and precautions, such as allergen cleaning, should be in place to keep them under control.

There are several things that you should do personally to help prevent contact dermatitis at work:

  1. Protect your skin – Applying a pre-work skin cream such as Stokoderm Protect PURE will help to protect your skin from irritants and allergens.
  2. Use protective clothing – Using personal protective equipment and especially gloves will reduce your contact with the causes of contact dermatitis. If you have a rubber allergy or are irritated by rubber, wear thin cotton gloves beneath them, and be sure to take off your gloves regularly to allow skin to breathe.
  3. Clean your skin – After you have come into contact with an allergen or irritant, rinse your skin with warm water and a soap-free cleanser or emollient, then apply a post-work skin cream such as Stokolan Light PURE to condition the skin and keep it moisturised. This is very important as dry skin is more prone to the symptoms of contact dermatitis.

If your symptoms of contact dermatitis are severe or recurring, you should visit your GP who may prescribe you an emollient cream or topical corticosteroid, or even corticosteroid tablets if your symptoms cover a large area of the skin. Your GP will give you instructions on how to apply or take your contact dermatitis treatment, and you should see your symptoms improve quickly.

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