Skin Health for Nurses: Prevention and management of hand dermatitis

Ms Amanda Palmer1

1Skin & Cancer Foundation Inc., Carlton, Australia


Introduction: Healthcare workers (HCWs) are at risk of developing occupational contact dermatitis (OCD), primarily involving the hands.  It’s estimated that between 30-50% of all HCWs have OCD, of varying severity. Skin barrier damage caused by OCD is associated with bacterial colonisation, potentially contributing to hospital-acquired infection (HAI) and impacting on patients’ health. OCD in nurses can result in time away from work and pain associated with damaged hands.

With early identification of OCD and appropriate education about skin care products, OCD is largely preventable.

Methods: Reviews of evidenced based literature, combined with analysis of our clinic data were conducted to identify the common causes of OCD in HCWs. A dialogue with Hand Hygiene Australia was initiated.

Results: Nurses have a tendency to develop OCD from the irritants and allergens they are exposed to on a daily basis including: water and wet work, hand cleansers, hand towels, gloves and ingredients in hand care products.

Two education initiatives have been developed.  The first is a stand-alone hand dermatitis prevention package and the second included adding contact dermatitis information into the existing hand hygiene online learning package.

Conclusion: Through these initiatives, we aim that all nurses and key personnel involved in hand hygiene and infection control will know how to prevent OCD, detect early symptoms and know what action to take if it develops.  Clinical outcomes of these initiatives include the possible reduction of HAI but also in ensuring the healthy skin of nurses.   These packages are a first for the Australian setting.


Amanda is a clinical nurse consultant at the Occupational Dermatology Research and Education Centre, at the Skin and Cancer Foundation, Melbourne, where she has worked since 2003. Amanda has dual qualifications in nursing and public health and has completed her masters in primary health.

Amanda has a diverse role, including management of the patch testing clinics, developing and maintaining websites, writing educational materials and performing many researcher duties including database management and research reports. She has developed the Contact Allergen Bank Australia service which is a mail order allergen service for dermatologists throughout Australia which includes educating nurses and dermatologists about patch testing. She has also designed and coordinated annual patch testing education days and skin health educations days. More recently she has  worked with Hand Hygiene Australia, to develop a module on hand dermatitis for nurses and also contributed dermatitis information to the current HHA online learning package.

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