LUGANO, Switzerland — Is there such a thing as being too clean? A new study finds the obsession with washing hands during the coronavirus pandemic may be leading to a new epidemic of skin problems. Researchers in India say over two-thirds of the general public are displaying symptoms of hand dermatitis for the first time in their lives.
The team from Father Muller Medical College adds the problem is even worse among healthcare professionals, who are constantly scrubbing and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Their study examined the skin health of 582 people, evenly split between the general population and healthcare workers. Researchers focused on transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is a key measure of how well someone’s skin barrier is working.
Results reveal the signs of hand dermatitis are now present in a staggering 92.6 percent of healthcare personnel. Among the 291 people from the general public, 68.7 percent now have hand dermatitis. Dry and scaly skin are typical symptoms of the condition, also called hand eczema. Patients can also develop red blotches or lesions, swelling, blistering, or even crusting of the skin. Prior to the pandemic, less than three percent of these participants had any history of hand dermatitis.
Researchers note hand dermatitis is a common problem young women and those with jobs that continually expose them to chemicals. Such work includes cleaning, catering, metalwork, hairdressing, mechanical labor, and healthcare services.
In the new report, study authors discovered higher levels of TEWL (or dryer skin) among women and workers in intensive care units. The team adds those levels had a connection to a higher frequency of hand washing and use of hand sanitizers among these groups.
Worsening skin creates even more hygiene problems
Previous studies have revealed that the fear of COVID infection is so great, some people are washing their hands up to 15 times a day. Moreover, the average American is washing their hands nine times each day now, thanks to the pandemic. In one survey, one in five Americans admit they’ve washed their hands so much their skin has started to bleed.
In the new report, both participants from the public and healthcare workers note their skin irritation and dryness is now becoming an obstacle in maintaining proper hygiene. Over 70 percent of healthcare workers and 50 percent of the public agree it’s now uncomfortable washing their hands.
“This research truly demonstrates the impact of increased hand washing and uptake of alcohol-based rubs on the hand skin health of HCPs and the general public,” says Dr. Monisha Madhumita in a media release.
“Moreover, we now know that using TEWL to measure skin barrier function can help us compare the efficacy of various barrier protective measures, and discover suitable modifications of hand hygiene practices and products to help prevent hand eczema. Finding suitable modifications to practices and products that may increase the accessibility of proper hand hygiene is something of vital importance to many in our community.”
“This research shows there is now a skin-disease epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic. It is promising to see this problem being recognized, and I am excited to see how the dermatology community goes about finding potential solutions to this issue,” adds Marie-Aleth Richard, a professor at the University Hospital of La Timone in Marseille and a board member of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.
Researchers presented their findings at EADV’s 2021 Spring Symposium.