If your job involves working in a harsh or challenging environment, such as outdoors in the winter, with materials that create a lot of dust - including wood or plaster - or if you regularly handle chemicals, eczema can severely impact your working life and make day to day tasks difficult.
What is eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory, dry skin condition which leads to itching and scratching, which in turn leads to more inflammation. There are several types of eczema including seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, stasis eczema, nummular eczema, dyshidrotic eczema, asteatotic eczema and neurodermatitis (also known as lichen simplex).
The most common form is atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis; a long-term condition which is more common in children but can affect any part of the body as an adult, including the hands, crook of the elbow and back of the knees as well as the genital area. According to Allergy UK, atopic eczema affects about one in ten adults in the UK.
What causes eczema?
There are several causes of eczema, including age, environment, and family history. While you can’t reverse the ageing process or change your genetic make-up, there are things you can do to improve environmental factors, namely how you look after your skin while you’re at work.
What can cause eczema in the workplace?
People with eczema often find that wool and manufactured materials such as nylon and polyester can cause overheating and sweating which leads to itchy skin. Seams, zips and threads from PPE and work uniforms can also rub on the skin and cause irritation.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) or Respiratory protective equipment (RPE)
If you’re sensitive or allergic to the chemicals used in the manufacture of non-medical face masks and gloves, you may develop an eczema-related rash or contact dermatitis.
Working in cold, damp, windy British weather can cause dry skin, Along with chemicals and dust from cement and plaster and it can make your eczema worse.
As we’re all encouraged to wash our hands thoroughly to prevent contamination and reduce the spread of infection, often the ingredients in hand soap aren’t ideal for people who suffer from eczema.
While hand dryers are better for the environment than paper towels, they can dry out the skin and lead to an eczema flare-up.
If your skin is overly sensitive to fragrance, colleagues’ after shave or perfume or even scents in soap or air fresheners can affect your eczema.
How do I cope with eczema at work?
The most crucial step is to break the cycle of itching and scratching, so that your skin has a chance to heal and provide a barrier against any irritants you encounter at work.
Keep your skin moist
Apply a moisturiser or emollient to affected areas throughout the day. If you don’t have a changing room, ask your employer if there’s somewhere private you can use.
Wear cotton or bamboo clothes
It’s not always practical to wear natural fibres, especially if you must wear PPE or other specialist clothing made from synthetic materials. Cotton, bamboo or even specially made silk undergarments can help reduce irritation and the need to scratch. Try wearing cotton gloves under your normal work gloves and add a layer of emollient underneath to soothe the skin.
Bring your own towel to work
If your employer allows it, and you have your own locker or storage space, you might be able to bring your own towel in rather than using a hand dryer or paper towels.
Speak to your supervisor
If a specific scent or substance is causing your eczema to flare up, speak to a manager or your HR department about making allowances. If your company has a regular ‘Tool box talk,’ they could gently remind people about wearing too much personal scent.
Learn how to wear PPE correctly
Ask for training on how to wear PPE and RPE correctly to ensure that your eczema doesn’t get worse.
Treatment for eczema at Benenden Hospital
Our Dermatologists are highly experienced and are happy to discuss any concerns or queries about your eczema, as well as how our self-pay eczema treatments can help.
To find out more about treatment for severe or chronic eczema, complete our online enquiry form or contact our Private Patient team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.
Published on 22 May 2023