Healthcare Workers Face Occupational Skin Disease

Dr.If you work in the healthcare industry, you are required to wash your hands constantly in order to keep yourself and your patients clean and healthy. Here’s the bad news: washing your hands too frequently causes eczema. It’s one of those darned if you do, darned if you don’t situations.

It’s been noted time and time again, that healthcare is the fastest growing sector in the US economy right now, with more than 18 million workers, 80% representation for women (a rare statistic in any field), and good pay and benefits for people who may not have many such opportunities in life. Unfortunately, the field also carries more than its fair share of health risks.

For healthcare workers hoping to avoid skin conditions, here are a few tips for avoiding hand dermatitis, eczema and other skin conditions:

washing handsDo Wash Your Hands Regularly

You do want to wash your hands regularly if you work in the healthcare field. It can lead to eczema, but the alternative to keeping clean at a healthcare job may be worse than eczema. Avoid when possible, the use of antibacterial soaps and soaps that contain other harsh irritants such as: alcohol, fragrances and sulfates. If you have to bring your own soap from home, do so.


All that washing dries your hands out. When you moisturize, you can reduce some of the damage done by the constant cleaning. When moisturizing with creams and lotions, you’ll generally want to avoid anything based in sunflower oil, gluten or olive oil as these can bring a whole host of other adverse effects to your skin.

The best skin care products for moisturizing, especially when required to wash your hands so frequently, are ceramide creams. Utilize products that focus on essential skin lipid replacement and skin barrier optimization, or SBO.

Be Aware of Skin Hazards

It’s not just about germs or abrasive soaps. Excessive sunlight can lead to irritated skin, as can excessive cold, as you may find in the sterile environment of a hospital. Synthetic oils used on machinery at work can cause issues, as well, and so can UV light, inorganic metals and certain medicines and chemicals common in a healthcare environment.

If you believe that you might be allergic to something at work, look into it, and see what your options are to avoid contact, whether that means being stationed elsewhere, or wearing a long-sleeve shirt underneath your medical scrubs.

Be Extra Careful Around Contagious Skin Conditions

Skin conditions like scabies, athlete’s foot, ringworm, impetigo, and various fungal infections can be highly contagious. When helping a patient with a contagious skin condition, due diligence and disinfecting are a must.

When you work in the healthcare industry, you put your skin on the line every day you show up for work. You will expose yourself to contagious pathogens in healthcare, you have to wash your hands more frequently than you would in any other industry except, perhaps, food service.

However, with a few common sense measures, including proper skin care and, of course, all of the methods that have been taught to you to prepare you for a job in healthcare, it’s not so hard to keep your skin soft and healthy on the job.

+Dr.Lee  Lee Eberting is a board certified dermatologist and is a past fellow of the National Institutes of Health, who blogs regularly at

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