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The 5 most common workplace skin disorders

A male industrial worker showing the palms of his hands covered in oil and chemical residue

It’s next to impossible to avoid all skin problems in the workplace. This is especially true of the hands and forearms.

The simple fact is we touch things. Everybody’s skin is different also, which means that what might work for some may not work with other people as their skin reacts differently to other chemicals.

Other factors that need to be considered are that, you can do everything right in the office, but your employees are only there for around eight hours of twenty four.

Plus, another thing that is frequently overlooked are the seasonal changes which can adversely affect people’s skins.

However, some workers are definitely more at risk from occupational skin disorders. These include but aren’t limited to those people in construction, health care, food service, auto-repair and cosmetology.

Essentially anyone who works with harsh cleaning chemicals is more at risk dues to the fact their skin will likely come into contact with hazardous chemicals.

And whilst there are a number of measurements in place focused on preventing inhalation exposure of hazardous chemicals, standardised methods for reducing chemical-related skin exposure are lacking.

What causes occupational skin diseases?

Occupational skin diseases are caused by direct contact with one or more hazardous substances. The skin can come into contact with substances through:

  • immersion
  • contact with contaminated tools or surfaces, for example a workbench, tools or clothing
  • splashing
  • the substance landing on the skin

Contact Dermatitis – Eczema

There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant dermatitis and allergic dermatitis. These have the same appearance but different causes.

Irritant dermatitis

This is normally caused by a chemical agent coming into contact with the skin. There are varying degrees of severity, but as a general rule, the longer a chemical is in contact with skin the worse the case becomes.

Irritant dermatitis then makes the skin more vulnerable to other hazards such as bacteria and chemicals. An important classification of irritant dermatitis is that the condition stops after contact with the irritant stops.

Allergic dermatitis

This is caused by exposure to an allergen or sensitiser, normally a hazardous substance. It is not uncommon then for irritant dermatitis to lead to allergic dermatitis.

The cause is the sufferers immune system being sensitised to the hazardous material as opposed to the chemical agent itself. Once sensitised, the problem is often a lifelong one and any further contact or exposure will have the same reaction.

Causes of irritant dermatitis include cleaning products, organic solvents, metalworking fluids, cement and other chemicals, some plants and shrubs, and water.

And although we may need to wash our hands, over-washing can itself cause irritation. This makes workers in industries like hairdressing, the food industry and people who work with metalworking fluids highly susceptible to irritant dermatitis.

Contact Urticaria

Contact urticaria is a skin condition characterised by redness and swellings. The swellings appear where the hazardous substance has come into contact with the skin and normally normally occur within an hour of exposure and disappear after 24 hours. Latex for example, is a common cause of the condition.


Acne is caused by blockage of glands in the skin which then become inflamed. There are many causes for this, not least of which are genetic, however it can be caused or significantly worsend by exposure to substances such as oil, halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and coal tar.

It can also be caused by long term contact with oily clothes.


Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles. This condition is common in people in the metal industry who are exposed to mineral and soluble oils.

Pigmentary disorders

Pigmentary disorders include depigmentation (a loss of skin colour) and hyperpigmentation (an accumulation of skin colour). Depigmentation can be caused by chemicals such as hydroquinine, phenol (and its derivatives), arsenic and mercury compounds.

It can also be caused by ionising and ultraviolet radiation, as well as thermal or physical trauma. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by mineral oils, halogenated hydrocarbons, arsenic and various pharmaceutical agents.

Skin Cancers

Skin cancer can be caused by ultraviolet light (either sunlight or artificial), ionising radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, tar and tar products. Jobs that require a lot of labour outside in the sun, or people working with radiation are the most susceptible to this.


Prevention can be difficult. Precautions you take should involve but are not be limited to providing appropriate safety wear. For example, gloves, an apron, goggles, a mask.

There should also be appropriate soap – something that isn’t too harsh, but strong enough for the purposes of hygiene. A touch free solution is advisable too.

On top of this hand cream in bathrooms can help replenish oils in the skin and keep the skin healthy and pain free. Especially worthwhile investing in for some of the workplaces mentioned in this article, or during seasons where dry skin is common.

Investing in a good soap and a practical dispensing system for your workplace will save you money in the long run.

It will help prevent the spread of illness as well as helping prevent any more serious skin conditions in the workforce.
On top of that a well-designed industrial hand soap dispenser system like One2Clean will save soap and the associated costs with its practical automated dispensers.