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Dry Winter Skin

Patrick Boshell
December 12, 2012
Dry Winter Skin

The skin is the largest organ of the body and comes with a complete set of defense mechanisms designed to prevent irritation. Because of its external location however, the skin is exposed to a wide variety of environmental conditions, some of which eventually break down those defense mechanisms and produce skin irritations or dermatitis


Since skin care products are used daily and sometimes hourly, they prematurely may be targeted as the culprit whenever skin becomes irritated. 

We know from experience that there are fewer chapping problems in the summer and fall. December through March produce more complaints than all of the rest of the year, in part due to the dramatic drop in humidity levels as well as colder temperatures. 

Let’s face it, chapped and dry winter skin is painful. It burns worse when coming from the cold outdoors into a warm room. The skin stings even more intensely when placed into hot water. It tends to become rough and therefore more difficult to clean, and because of this very problem, it is more likely to become infected. 

What are the causes of chapped skin?

  1. Very low humidity dries out the natural moisture of the skin;
  2. Cold itself is a factor. A cold dry wind with skin exposed accentuates the chapping tendency;
  3. Incomplete drying of the skin after washing allows evaporation to occur and leads to chapping.
  4. Incomplete rinsing which leaves product residue to dry on the skin.

Handwashing is not the problem

Keep in mind that a skin cleanser is seldom the real cause of the problems, and that about 7% of the population will tend to be highly sensitive to skin problems. Cleansers of any kind when applied to chapped skin will cause stinging and burning. 

When employees state that the irritation cleared up when they tried another product, it is probably because the healing process began before the change was made, or the environment of the person changed (e.g. change of departments, procedures, warmer weather, high humidity, certain chemicals or solvents not in contact with the skin now, etc.). More likely, the person probably began to use a skin lotion or cream. (Check to see if most of the concerns are coming from one department). Are these hands exposed to any particular chemical? 

Sometimes irritations such as chemicals can be sources of bacterial infections. Visit the complaining departments and you may find that only 3-4 people are actually complaining. Some people have outside interests or projects that could be the source (e.g. automotive repairs, home renovations, woodworking etc.). Get them to use a moisturizing cream at appropriate times - especially before going outside into cold, dry air. Just remember that there are eight main areas of an individual’s make-up that play a role in skin irritations: 

  1. Perspiration may result in skin damage
  2. Season of the year - winter and spring
  3. Gender - women’s skin is more susceptible
  4. Pre-existing skin diseases
  5. Allergy
  6. Cleanliness
  7. The job
  8. Home & play environment

Check all of these. You will likely find one or more contributing to the problem.

Poor Hand washing Procedures

Check the hand washing technique as your first option. Nine times out of ten, the main cause of irritation is improper hand washing. Too much hand washing, not rinsing properly, not drying hands or not protecting hands before exposure to cold, dry air, friction, poor quality hand towels, etc., are all common. 

Creams also compliment cleansers and hand sanitizers as part of a complete skin care program.  Pre-work creams help protect the skin against contact with various workplace contaminates and working conditions.  Restore conditioning creams help maintain healthy skin and avoid dryness.
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