The Itchy Inconvenience of Hand Hygiene

Our skin

Picture the surface layer of the skin (stratum corneum) like a brick wall; the cells piled one on top of another, bound together by a lipid matrix (fatty scaffolding).

Your skin barrier depends on that fatty scaffolding to hold the skin cells together.

Not only are fats used in the structure of your skin, glands found within the surface secrete oily, fatty substances (like sebum) to the surface, which act as a protective coating against germs, radiation, irritants and water loss.

With hand dermatitis (skin inflammation) and eczema like skin presentations, the fatty scaffolding and production of skin cells is disrupted, causing poor stability of our brick walls. Our outer layer of skin gets drier, thinner and its barriers become more prone to breaking.

How it is disrupted

Almost all hand dermatitis is due to disruption of the stratum corneum. Disruption is caused by altered barrier strength and declining skin hydration.

Hand Hygiene

Usually, the most common people to experience hand dermatitis due to hand hygiene are those who work in health care, beauty, and cleaning professions. But with the increased participation of global hand hygiene activity, we are starting to see everyday people experience some type of skin dryness, burning, itching and barrier breakdown.

The primary action of soap is to break down oily, fatty substances - much like the way applying dishwashing liquid to the pan you just cooked a roast in cleans away the grease.

When we use soap on our hands, it’s the same.

The soap breaks up those protective, oily, fatty substances that our skin so kindly produces to protect us. The normal frequency we wash our hands usually doesn’t cause as much of a disruption, but now more than ever, we are washing our hands, and this is why the skin cannot keep up with the production of oils in relation to the washing away of them.

Hand sanitiser over use is also an issue.

Like in our gut, we have beneficial bacterial colonies on our skin. And, like in our gut, they protect us and play a role in our immune function. A handful of skin conditions are associated with skin microbiome changes such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.

With overuse of alcohol-based hand sanitiser we are impacting our skin microbiome constantly, not to mention drying it out.

And if repeated for long periods of time, this can lead to deeper skin layers being affected and a cycle of chronic conditions.

On a side note: in children, over hygiene has the potential to lead to immune hypersensitivity diseases such as asthma, eczema and hay fever. This is due to stunting the child’s exposure to an array of microbes which assist in building a more resilient immune system. This is known as "the hygiene hypothesis"

Pre-existing conditions

Atopic conditions, eczema, contact allergies will make you more vulnerable to hand dermatitis. This is because there is already an element of impaired barrier function and inflammation going on due to immune dysfunction.

Nutrient deficiencies will also make you vulnerable to some conditions. The protective layers need fats, cholesterol, proteins and minerals for their structure. Nutrient status of vitamins and phytonutrients will also determine how your body manages the inflammatory processes.

What's the consequence?

Broken barriers result in water loss and skin dehydration. Dryness and cracking follow.

When the outer layer of skin is compromised, our internal army is deployed as reinforcements. This is the beginning of inflammation.

Symptoms such as itching, redness, warmth, weeping and even bleeding can occur from the vicious itch-scratch cycle.

With broken skin and damp conditions due to broken, weepy skin or improper hand drying, infections thrive. You become more prone to inflammation, secondary infections, and further itching as a result of an increased immune response.

Some have disturbed sleep from itch, constant discomfort and some find it quite debilitating.

What can we do?

What we do is support that surface layer of skin. We aim to reduce inflammation and repair the barriers of our skin cells through assisting the fatty scaffolding, oil secretions and hydration.

Fixing those surface barriers will mean the inside army of inflammation will no longer be needed.

Topical treatments


Emollients are preparations that provide a physical, protective barrier to the skin. Their topical application prevents dehydration whilst, at the same time, provides soothing effects on redness and inflammation.

Oils and mucilages sourced from plants can act as emollients and improve our skin barriers.

Alcohol based sanitisers combined with emollients and plant oils will reduce the risk of irritation

Examples include:

Sweet almond oil

Coconut oil

Avocado oil

Aloe (Aloe vera)

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)


Topical use of antioxidant herbs and vitamins are already key ingredients in skin care products. The process of oxidation is another way skin can become damaged. So, antioxidant activity is essential in maintaining the health of our skin.

Examples include:

Vitamin C

Vitamin E




Alleviating the inflammation that comes with hand dermatitis is essential. By putting a holt on inflammation, the body has a better chance of repairing the skin un-interrupted and there can be an improvement in symptoms of itching, burning, redness, swelling.

Examples include:

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Diet Support

Healthy Fats

Within the fatty scaffolding there must be fats and cholesterol. So, eat them!

This will increase our skin cells ability to hold water and secretion of protective oils on the surface.

Examples include:


Oily fish

Flaxseed oil

Coconut Oil

Nuts and Seeds

or supplement

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a fantastic antioxidant, assisting with repair of cells. It is also needed for collagen production in the layers of our skin. Its role here is to support new skin cells and tissue regeneration.

Sources include:

Kiwi fruit




or supplement


During the process of healing, all the messenger cells, skin cells and waste collectors need protein to work effectively. Additionally, the framework of the skin and collagen need it. This benefits healing of open wounds reducing infection and deeper skin issues.

Sources include:



Nuts and seeds


Good quality, clean protein powder

In our clinics, we have the products to create tailored topical treatments for dermatitis and wound healing. Infused plant oils, vitamin cream bases, and phytomedicine.

Access to supplements also means there can be a greater and faster effect by standardising nutrient intake to get results through therapeutic levels.

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