Academic journal article The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health

Investigation into Different Skin Conditions in Certain Occupations

Academic journal article The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health

Investigation into Different Skin Conditions in Certain Occupations

Article excerpt


The aim of this study was to establish whether those working in certain occupations had skin with a lower moisture content than would be considered normal. Skin moisture levels were measured as well as visual assessment. Results indicated that all occupational groups studied had skin that was less well hydrated than would be considered normal, although there were significant inter-individual variations within any one group. These variations were at least as significant as occupation. Awareness of the need to use gloves as protection against chemicals and to use emollients to restore condition was low, as was compliance.

Key words

Bakers; hairdressers; nursery workers; occupational skin disease; office workers


At some point in ours lives 40% of us will suffer some kind of recognised skin condition, many of which are constitutional in nature. However, almost all of us will suffer from dry skin. There are many factors - environmental conditions, chemical exposure, frequent hand washing and other wet work - that can cause the damage resulting in our skin becoming dry. This damage to our skin may occur during both our working and personal lives. There are, however, some professions where skin condition tends to be worse. For example it is well documented that in hairdressing, because of the nature of the work which involves frequent contact with cleansers and water, a very high proportion of professionals have skin problems.1-3 The extent of the damage to the skin of those working in some professions has never been investigated.

In some cases this dry skin gets worse resulting in a recognised skin complaint. Occupational skin diseases form a large part of occupational disease.4 The most common form of occupational skin disease is irritant contact dermatitis,5 with women being more affected than men. This has implications for many female-dominated occupations, where there is extensive wet work, a recognised cause of occupational skin problems.5

But it's not just wet work that can cause problems for the skin. Very dry conditions (low humidity) will also cause damage to the skin6 which may result in irritant contact dermatitis. However, there are many ways in which we can help prevent damage to the skin, for example by using emollients to replace the natural skin oils lost as a result of this exposure. Every time we wash our hands, or expose them to chemicals or adverse environmental conditions, some of the lipids found on the surface and providing the epidermal barrier will be removed.7 Skin function becomes impaired and the skin becomes dry.8 There is plenty of clinical evidence to support the view that the use of emollients can be used in both treatment and prevention of dry skin and irritant contact dermatitis.9-12


This investigation was conducted at the request of Crookes Healthcare. The aim was to establish the extent to which abnormally dry skin is common in certain occupations due to working conditions. Occupations selected were office workers, hairdressers, pre-school nursery staff and catering.

Certain occupations, such as hairdressing and catering, are known to have high levels of occupational contact dermatitis. This mainly takes the form of irritant contact dermatitis, due to the defatting effect of chemicals and wet work. We were also interested in whether or not workers in modern offices, with air-conditioning resulting in low relative humidity, might show similar effects.

Studies suggest that low skin moisture level predisposes to the development of irritant contact dermatitis. It was therefore important to establish to what extent workers in the selected occupations had lower than normal skin moisture level.


Skin moisture level in the stratum corneum, the outer layer of the skin, of volunteers from each of the occupational sectors was measured. Participants were asked to present themselves approximately ten minutes before the measurements were taken. …

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