the skin

The Skin, Living Tissue

The Skin, Living Tissue

The skin is living tissue. It is constantly being renewed so as to keep the surface - the protective barrier - in good repair. This protective layer is very thin (one hundredth of a millimeter) and is completely renewed every three to four weeks. Keeping our skin in good shape is essential to carry out everyday tasks, including those related to work.

Skin Irritation

Skin Irritation

Daily life and work-related stress damage the natural protective barrier of the skin, especially hands. If the attacks are too great, the skin cannot regenerate properly and it becomes permeable, like a sieve.

In this case, usually well-tolerated substances penetrate the skin and create irritation: skin becomes red, dry and sometimes cracked.

Irritation Opens the Door to Allergy

Irritation Opens the Door to Allergy

If the skin is healthy everyday irritants as well as those related to work don't go through the natural protective barrier. When the skin is irritated, allergens are then able to reach the deepest part of the skin and cause an allergic reaction. This reaction is the organism's active response which calls into play the body's immunological defenses.

Different Allergies

Different Allergies

  1. Allergy to hair dyes in a hairdresser
  2. Allergy to farm machines in a mechanic
  3. Allergy in a car body-repair worker/painter
  4. Allergy to cement in a bricklayer
  5. Allergy to airborne epoxy resin in a carpenter
Immunological Defenses

Immunological Defenses

The immunological system allows humans to remain healthy in spite of attacks from viruses or other germs. When one is exposed to a virus like that of chicken pox or measles, after a few days of illness the organism develops an immune response. When this works the virus is progressively destroyed and the individual returns to health. The organism keeps a durable trace from these episodes know as immunological memory. This allows for an immediate and efficient response in case of a new exposure to the same virus. We say that the individual is now immune to that virus. That is why we only get chicken pox or measles once in a lifetime.

The Mechanisms of Contact Allergy (1)

The Mechanisms of Contact Allergy (1)

As with an exposure to a virus, a contact with an allergen calls on the body's immune system. An allergen is a substance which tends to cause the immune system to react in much the same way as a virus would cause a reaction.

When there is a contact with an allergen without the protection of the skin (1) the allergen goes through the skin and causes an immunological reaction (2). The visible result of this reaction is called eczema. Eczema can appear at any point in a professional career from the first month to many years on.

The skin is sprinkled with pimples, often fills with a clear liquid and is very itchy.

The Mechanisms of Contact Allergy (2)

The Mechanisms of Contact Allergy (2)

Following an attack of eczema, if contact with the allergen is eliminated, the skin will heal (3). The organism retains a durable trace of this episode (immunological memory). If new contact is made with the substance in question (4) the skin will react within a few hours with a new attack of eczema stronger than the previous one (5).

The itching is now intense and oozing and scab formation are frequent.

Degrees of Seriousness

Degrees of Seriousness

Although irritation and allergy are often found in association they are clearly different phenomena. Irritation is in principle reversible, while allergy (which calls on immunological memory) is irreversible. Developing work-related contact dermatitis often means changing professions.

That being the case, the development of an allergy must be avoided at all costs through appropriate care and protection. The first spots of irritations are alarm signals and immediate response is imperative (see pp. 19-23).

The 2 Kinds of Irritation

The 2 Kinds of Irritation

There are two main kinds of irritations: acute and cumulative.

Acute irritation:

Everyone knows the effects of a violent attacks on the skin such as a burn from fire or boiling water or a corrosive agent. In these cases a painful redness is experienced. This will progressively diminish if the attack was not too severe. This is acute irritation.

Cumulative irritation:

Generally speaking, work subjects one's hands to multiple slight attacks during the course of the day. Cleaning materials, industrial oils, soil and cement are all examples. As the interval between these contacts decreases, their effect accumulates until irritation as severe as in acute irritation is evidenced. There is, however, a natural tendency to underestimate this situation.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Health Care Workers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

In the case of health care workers, hygiene and repeated hand washing are the source of irritation.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Hairdressers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

In the case of hairdressers, it is repeated shampooing and use of hair care products in combination with frequent washings that is the cause of irritation.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Bricklayers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Among bricklayers and construction workers cement attacks on several different fronts: it dries out the skin and is both abrasive and alkaline.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Machinists

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Among machinists, constant contact with the emulsions used for cutting metal causes cumulative irritation.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Car mechanics and body repair workers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Hand damage among this group is caused by a great number of substances, often petrol-based.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Painters and plasterers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Among painters and plasterers hand damage can occur because of repeated hand washing with solvents whose primary use is for diluting paint and cleaning.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Bakers and pastry makers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Among bakers and pastry workers the culprit is the drying effect of flour. Frequent washing of hands and work surfaces along with the handling of hot baked goods join to weaken the skin.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Farm workers

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Among all those who work on the land, from farmers to landscape gardeners and wine growers, florists, etc. contact with the soil and with water is constant. Among these people calluses are frequent as is cracked skin from the cold.

Cumulative Irritation

Cumulative Irritation

Stonecutters

Every profession exposes the hands to different irritants. Their effects pile up and can lead to dry red cracked hands.

Among stonecutters the skin is attacked by constant dampness, by the water used to cool the surfaces being cut, and then by the rough and cutting surfaces of the stone itself.

Prevention

Prevention

1. Avoid contacts

a. When using potentially damaging products read and respect the instructions for use. Health risks of all products used must be known.

b. Never touch toxic or allergenic products with your bare hands.

c. Wear appropriate gloves.

Prevention

Prevention

2. Wear appropriate gloves

Nothing can substitute wearing gloves when they are the proper ones.

Latex gloves should be used exclusively by health care workers. These gloves are permeable to numerous substance and are not adequate for most other work situations.

It is absolutely imperative to use gloves resistant to the products used in each profession.

In spite of a widespread belief to the contrary, wearing gloves doesn't have to hinder carrying out a job. There is at present a wide choice of suitable gloves for every profession. The manufacturers of protective gloves provide all the details necessary to make an optimal choice.

Take care of your hands

Take care of your hands

- avoid getting them dirty

- wash them with products which don't harm the skin

- rinse well

- dry well

- use hand cream regularly

Hand creams

Hand creams

The regular use of hand cream helps with the repair of irritated skin. The cream increases the natural resistance of the skin by moisturizing and re-greasing it.

If possible, application should take place before, during, and after the work period. Several thin layers are better than a single thick application. At bedtime a greasy cream will help the natural repair of the skin.

Applying the cream

Applying the cream

3 places to remember

- around finger nails

- between the fingers

- on the wrists