Also known as hand eczema, hand dermatitis is a common condition involving inflammation of the skin on the hands. It occurs when the skin becomes irritated in response to a “trigger,” such as contact with harsh soaps, raw fruits/vegetables, and chemicals. Environmental and genetic factors both play a role, although those with long term exposure to “wet work,” such as food handling, healthcare work, and hairdressing are at highest risk. Signs and symptoms include redness, itching, thickening of the skin, scaling, cracks, and even erosion and bleeding.
In recent years, overuse of hand sanitizer has been associated with hand dermatitis, seen particularly in hospital workers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can disturb the natural pH and barrier of the skin, leaving skin vulnerable to allergens which can penetrate beneath the surface and trigger an autoimmune reaction. It is this reaction which causes reddening, itching, blisters, swelling, peeling, and cracking. In severe cases, the condition can become persistent.
Prevention of hand dermatitis involves avoidance of irritants, which varies between individuals but may include detergents & soaps, foods, metals, plants, cement, topical medications, gloves, cosmetics, as well as prolonged exposure to water. Washing hands with lukewarm (not hot) water with a mild unscented soap, immediately followed by a heavy hand cream will help to keep hands moisturized and protected. After washing, hands should be gently pat dry in order to not irritate the skin. Additionally, gloves should always be worn (vinyl generally preferred over latex or rubber) before coming into contact with possible irritants. If a patient is already experiencing hand dermatitis, corticosteroids may be prescribed to control the inflammation, followed by prevention strategies to avoid re-occurrence.