Skincare and handcare

Skincare at work

Skin dermatitis

If you believe you have a skin reaction related to your work then please contact Occupational Health on 020 7594 9401.

At work our skin is exposed to a diverse range of substances and environments which can affect it. Being a complex structure, the skin provides a range of essential functions. It is the body’s first defence against physical, chemical and biological hazards. Its integrity is important.

Work-related skin problems are very common. Although skin problems can happen in most workplaces, certain jobs and activities present a higher risk. The following information is related to protecting your skin at work, how and when your skin can become damaged through work, how to check to determine if your work is affecting your skin and what to do about it if it is.

Skin care at work

Avoid contact between unprotected skin and substances, products or wet work.

  • Avoiding contact will not always be possible, so use personal protective equipment such as gloves. Wash any contamination from your skin promptly. Protect the skin by moisturising often, particularly at the end of the day. This helps replace the skin’s natural oils that keep the protective barrier present.

Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin that occurs when we come into contact with a particular substance.

  • It can be caused by an irritant that directly damages the outer layer of skin, or an allergen that causes the immune system to respond in a way that affects the skin. Dermatitis caused by irritants is more common.

Checking your skin regularly is easy and can help to catch dermatitis early, which can make it easier to treat.

If you believe that you have dermatitis related to your work, take a picture and send it to us by email.

  • You will be given an appointment. When you see an OH team member in clinic, tell us what you do at work and what you think might be causing the problem. Also talk to your manager/supervisor about your concerns. If your dermatitis is confirmed and is work related, we need to make sure that you can work in a way that protects your health. 

Factors affecting the skin

Physical and/or environmental

  • Direct and indirect heat can alter the makeup of skin cells altering the amount/ nature of natural fats on the surface
  • Cold can reduce the circulation to the periphery and can result in dry skin
  • Sun UVA & UVB rays can burn the skin, cause dryness and skin cancer
  • Wind can also exacerbate the effects of cold and UV light
  • Sharp items break the continuity of the barrier and predispose the body to infection
  • Excessive moisture (including sweat) can both irritate it and increase its permeability
  • Abrasive materials can rub away the outer surface exposing the more delicate dermal layer as well as nerve endings and capillaries
  • Dirt and Grime can aggravate the skin by blocking pores and reducing its ability to sweat


Chemicals can enter the body through the skin by permeation (movement through the skin without causing visible damage) or through damaged skin (i.e. cuts, abrasions, etc). An individual's reaction to chemicals varies especially if they have skin allergies. Broken skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis may increase chemical absorption. Chemical groups to be aware of are as follows:

  • Acids and Alkalis can damage the skin by burning it. Some toxic chemicals can be absorbed through the skin (e.g. phenol)
  • Solvents and mineral oils break down the lipid structure increasing the permeability of the skin
  • Proprietary cleaning agents and detergents (e.g. dish & hand washing liquids) can cause skin irritation
  • Any substance that is labelled as hazardous

Protecting your skin

The simplest way of protecting the skin is to avoid exposure to hazards, but this is not often practical. The easiest way to prevent damage is to cover skin with gloves which are designed to protect against a wide range of physical and chemical hazards. See Glove Selection Guidance for comprehensive information on choosing the right glove for your needs. Your choice will depend on the hazard, length of exposure and the amount of dexterity required when undertaking a task.