What is Contact Dermatitis

Workers' dry, cracked hands and skin aren't just part of the job. They're symptoms of a health condition called occupational contact dermatitis - the leading cause of work-related illness.1 Poor skin condition can affect worker performance and quality of life, as well as create costs derived from workers' compensation and lost productivity.

Skin disease may sound like a harsh word and bring to mind images of skin that looks obviously damaged. However, we are also including skin which looks "normal," but may be dry, flaky, cracked, cut, or red. Notice that the hands in the other pictures do not look severely damaged. All these symptoms are evidence of occupational irritant contact dermatitis - that's skin disease.

Many workers have come to accept skin that looks like this as "part of the job," but symptoms of occupational irritant contact dermatitis can be prevented. 

How to Prevent Contact Dermatitis

If skin is damaged or irritated, once the damage stops it will, with time, go back to normal. However, if the damage continues before the skin completely heals, eventually the threshold is reached. This is a sub-clinical disease - symptoms are not visible, but the damage is there. Eventually irritant contact dermatitis will reemerge with the cracks, breaks, dry skin, and pain. If repeated irritant contact dermatitis goes untreated, the skin can become a chronic dermatitis problem.

The best barrier to occupational irritant contact dermatitis is healthy skin. Of course, personal protective equipment is important and, to complement that, healthy skin provides a barrier that helps to protect the body against incidental exposure to irritant.

Healthy Skin

Healthy Skin

Healthy Skin

Healthy skin is the body's best barrier to infection and outside irritants. Healthy, well-conditioned skin retains more moisture and is less likely to absorb and react to incidental exposure to irritants.

Damaged Skin

Damaged Skin

Damaged Skin

When skin becomes damaged, it loses its ability to provide that barrier. Damaged skin permits natural oils and moisture to escape causing further drying and allowing outside substances to irritate and potentially enter the bloodstream.

Hand Medic Skin

GOJO® HAND MEDIC® Professional Skin Conditioner

GOJO® HAND MEDIC® Professional Skin Conditioner

This figure shows a hand that was repeatedly washed. We applied GOJO® HAND MEDIC® Professional Skin Conditioner to one part of the hand to replace lost oils and moisture, and left the other section (red and white area) alone. We then applied a mild irritant to the hand. The result shows increased blood flow due to irritation in the dry (untreated) section of the hand. This illustrates how well-conditioned skin is less likely to react with outside irritants.


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, December 2004.