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Focus on Skin Health: Taking Care of Your Silent Majority

Jason Tetro
April 12, 2016


There’s a concern in health – and indeed many other aspects of human systems – in which we tend to focus on the weakest aspects prone to failure yet ignore or take for granted those aspects we regard as perpetually safe. Unfortunately, when this silent majority turns on us or becomes compromised, the consequences can be dire. Even worse, figuring out how to mitigate and remediate the situation can be complicated and remediation may require drastic actions.


In healthcare, this problem has been recognized as one of the reasons for failure in quality. When the majority of tasks and/or actions are simply not given proper attention, the system becomes susceptible to a variety of problems. One example is the rise in healthcare-associated infections associated with a lack of proper hygiene by staff and visitors. Unfortunately, finding solutions is not easy as systems are not intrinsically in place to attend to these deficits and must be sought out externally.


This process also tends to happen on a more personal basis in which health can be compromised by taking for granted the body’s own silent majority. While much focus on human wellness involves organs inside the body, we tend to forget to take care of the largest human organ: the skin. It’s generally regarded solely as a barrier to the outside world, yet it is an integral member of our human ecosystem and requires as much attention as our hearts, lungs, and brains.


The dynamics of skin health has been a focus of medical professionals for thousands of years although the actual science of skin care – dermatology – has only been in existence for a few hundred years. Yet, even with this short history, we have gained significant insight into the skin’s role in our everyday lives and also how our own actions can lead to troubles. Cuts and scrapes are no doubt a problem but these are considered to be acute issues. But there are also chronic problems resulting from long-term adherence to tasking behaviours. In this context, the most common troubles arise from work-related activities.


Back in the 1940s, these so-called occupational dermatoses were examined and three causes were identified. The first was trauma as a result of gross contamination by a known toxic chemical. The second was toxic exposure to chemicals specific to a worker’s activities. Both of these have since been mitigated through the development of occupational safety guidelines such as WHMIS and MSDS. 


The third, however, was long-term exposure to non-toxic irritants, such as soap, oil, or pesticides. This particular cause was especially worrisome as the only answer would be to simply stop working. This option is not feasible for most and as a result, not given significant attention. Those who suffered would be treated and life would simply go on.


This is, however, a costly decision. In the 1960s, occupational dermatoses affected 1% of the population and led to significant costs in compensation. In a matter of eight years, over a half million such cases were recorded in the Canadian province of Ontario alone. That number has not decreased significantly as in 2007 in the same province there were over 43,000 cases of dermatitis with an average cost of just under $12,000 per case


The answer to this problem is undoubtedly to maintain the integrity and safety of the skin. This is, however, more difficult than it sounds. One needs to appreciate not only the ecological nature of the skin, which is different for each individual, but also the effect of various exposures on that ecosystem. For example, soap-related dermatitis will differ significantly from one caused by a pesticide. To ensure there is appropriate action, several steps need to be put in place.


The first is consultation with experts, who can best determine how to develop a skin wellness routine. Once this has been put in place, a combination of awareness development and training is needed.  This will ensure all parties understand the role of the program and the consequences of ignoring it.


Finally, and perhaps more importantly, there needs to be monitoring of the situation such that skin is checked for any signs of trouble. Without this last step, any intervention should not expect to be successful. After all, when it comes to those who are asked to change their routine, the last thing they want is to be taken for granted and essentially ignored once the regimen is in place.


Originally published by DebMed on the DebMed Blog


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