Handle with care

Work-related hand eczema (also known as contact eczema or contact dermatitis) is the most common skin condition in dentistry.

It is nearly 10 times greater in dental nurses and seven times greater in dentists than the all-profession average [1].

Hand eczema, which affects six million people in the UK, is a painful and debilitating condition, causing itching, red blisters beneath the surface of the skin, swelling, scaling, deep cracks that can become infected and thickening of the outer layer of skin [2].

It is one of the most common occupational skin diseases [3].

The condition often has significant adverse effects on quality of life and the long-term prognosis is poor unless workplace issues are addressed [4].

The main causes are rubber chemicals, soaps or cleaning products and ‘wet work’.

People working in the dental professions may also be exposed to chemicals such as X-ray developing fluid, which can cause hand eczema.

Occupational hand eczema must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) under the Reporting of Incidents, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) and it is your employer’s responsibility to report contact dermatitis when the diagnosis has been confirmed by a doctor or health professional [5].

Diane Llewellyn, HSE specialist inspector, says: ‘Dermatitis is not just a “bit of a rash”, it can be a painful and debilitating condition that employers need to manage as effectively as the general safety of their employees. 

‘Preventing dermatitis is not difficult, with simple steps such as avoiding contact with substances that cause dermatitis, protecting the skin with good skin care and checking for early signs of dermatitis to ensure that control measures are working.’

Tips to protect your hands against eczema
If you work in the dental professions, there are some simple things you can do to help protect your hands against eczema:
•    If possible, use machinery and tools to clean equipment, rather than your hands
•    When you wash your hands, make sure you have rinsed them thoroughly
•    Dry your hands thoroughly with a soft, disposable paper towel
•    Protect your hands by moisturising them regularly with an emollient (soothing and softening skin product), but use a product that is free from fragrances and preservatives
•    If latex gloves trigger your hand eczema, use suitable hypoallergenic gloves instead

Management and treatment of hand eczema
The website www.myhandeczema.co.uk gives information about the causes, management and treatment options for hand eczema.

If you develop hand eczema, the earlier you get help, the less risk there is of the condition becoming long-term and chronic.

There are a variety of different treatment options available, some of which can only be prescribed by a dermatologist. If treatments are not working, you should return to your GP and ask to be referred to a specialist as soon as possible.


[1] Health and Safety Executive (www.hse.gov.uk)

[2] 6% (almost 400,000) hand eczema sufferers have severe or chronic hand eczema. Diepgen TL, Agner T, Aberer W et al. Management of chronic hand dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis 2007: 57; 203-10 

[3] English, J: Hand Dermatitis: A common occupational skin disease – Part 1. OH Today (March 2010)

[4] Concise guidance: diagnosis, management and prevention of occupational contact dermatitis. Clinical Medicine Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London. October 2010

[5] Concise guidance: diagnosis, management and prevention of occupational contact dermatitis. Clinical Medicine Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London. October 2010

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