Handwashing

Skin health

Hand hygiene and caring for your hands has never been so important.

Washing your hands is an effective way to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, protecting yourself and your patients. However, frequent hand washing can lead to and exacerbate dry skin issues including contact dermatitis – a painful, debilitating condition which may require nursing staff to be moved out of clinical areas due to the risk of infection.

Protect your hands by regularly applying hand moisturiser after handwashing and at the end of each work period. Your employer should have a programme of skin checks in place for nursing staff exposed to the risk of work-related dermatitis.

  • Check your skin for any signs of dryness, itching, redness, cracking, blistering, flaky or scaly skin regularly or at least once a day.
  • Apply hand moisturising creams (containing emollients) after handwashing and at the end of each working period. This should be provided by your employer.
  • Report any signs of skin damage to your manager or occupational health provider.
  • If in doubt refer to your local guidance or tissue viability and/or infection prevention teams.

  • Washing your hands more often can have a negative effect on your hand skin health. The regular use of skin moisturisers containing emollients or conditioning creams should be encouraged after hand washing and at the end of each work period.
  • There is some evidence that workers who already have damaged skin benefit from using emollient conditioning creams. It is essential staff understand the need to protect the skin in these difficult times as any damage to the skin can become a portal for potential infection. 
  • All equipment should be fitted correctly and fit tested before starting clinical work. If possible, masks should be removed every two hours to relieve pressure. Masks or other PPE should be removed as soon as possible in a safe area if it feels uncomfortable. Check your skin for any signs of damage before returning to the clinical area.

  • Handwashing when done well is a great way to protect you from infection, however if not done correctly can irritate hands which places you at risk. 
  • Wet hands before applying soap.
  • Adjust the water temperature if you can so it is neither too hot or cold.
  • Use soft, absorbent hand towels to dry hands thoroughly.
  • Pat dry hands and pay attention to between the fingers.

Under health and safety law, your employer should have a programme of skin checks in place for nursing staff exposed to the risk of work-related dermatitis.

Nursing staff should feel able to raise concerns without detriment and should receive timely feedback on their concerns. If your concerns remain unresolved, refer to our raising concerns guidance and speak to your line manager. You can also call RCN Direct for advice on 0345 772 6100.

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Page last updated - 21/05/2020