Skin problems as a result of workplace activities are very common.


There are two main mechanisms through which problems may occur: 

  • exposure to or contact with substances for example chemicals
  • having wet hands for long periods while at work for example prolonged or frequent contact with water in combination with soaps or detergents

Skin conditions

There are a number of high risk occupations which may expose you to a risk of developing skin problems. These include catering, construction, hairdressing, health services, motor vehicle repair, metal machining, printing and so on. Information on some of these condiitions can be found here or by clicking on the following link:

The main methods of exposure are:    

  • immersing hands into chemicals
  • direct handling of contaminated work pieces or sensitising agents for example food or flour
  • skin contact with contaminated surfaces
  • splashing when mixing or handling chemicals
  • fumes or airborne deposits for example cement dust 
  • wet work for example frequent hand washing

One of the most common skin conditions is dermatitis and the symptoms include the following:    

  • redness
  • scaling / flaking
  • blistering
  • cracking 
  • swelling

There are two main types of dermatitis.  These are irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis:

  • Irritant contact - this may occur quickly after contact with a strong irritant or after longer or repeated exposure with weaker irritants. These irritants may be chemical, biological, mechanical or physical (solvents, oils, wet works, soaps, dusts, acids) 
  • Allergic contact – this occurs after developing an allergy to a substance.  Skin contact may lead to “sensitisation” which is likely to be permanent (hair dyes, adhesives, inks, flour, shellfish)

Other skin conditions include:

  • Urticaria- this occurs quite quickly following skin contact but disappears within hours. Examples include latex protein, food (potatoes, fish, meat ), heat/cold. Symptoms may include itching, tingling, burning 
  • Skin cancer (work related) – from uv light (outdoor work), chemicals (pitch / coal tar, mineral oils) and ionising radiation. Symptoms may include itchiness and tenderness at the rash area

Steps to take

There are three key steps to reduce the risk of skin problems developing as a consequence of workplace activities:

Avoid direct contact between unprotected hands and substances and avoid wet work if possible.  Remove substance / change working mechanism / substitution / introduce controls.

Protect the skin (wash hands / use mild skin cleaning cream or pre-work creams / wash to remove contamination / use cotton or disposable towels to dry hands properly / use PPE such as gloves / moisturise, using creams).

Check hands for itchy, dry or red skin.  Get any changes to skin treated or seek advice from a GP.

Outdoor working

Some outdoor workers may be more prone to skin problems than others.

It is important to remember that a tan is a sign that the skin has been damaged through ultraviolet rays in sunlight.

Extra care is needed if you have fair or freckled skin (skin which doesn't tan or goes red), red or fair hair and light coloured eyes or a large number of moles.

The main steps to take when working outdoors are:

  • keep your top on
  • wear a hat with a brim / flap to cover ears and back of neck
  • stay in the shade (at breaks / lunchtime)
  • use high factor sunscreen on exposed skin (at least SPF 15)
  • drink water to avoid dehydration 
  • check skin regularly. Consult your GP if you notice any changes to moles, for example a change of shape, size or colour


Key legislation

Please note that this link is to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.