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Review
. 2003 Dec;55(4):239-45.
doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2003.08.018.

Hand Hygiene and Skin Health

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Review

Hand Hygiene and Skin Health

E Kownatzki. J Hosp Infect. .

Abstract

The high rate of hand problems associated with the hand hygiene of medical professions is due to a combination of damaging factors: (1) the removal of barrier lipids by detergent cleaning and alcohol antisepsis followed by a loss of moisturizers and stratum corneum water and (2) the overhydration of the stratum corneum by sweat trapped within gloves. Together the facilitate the invasion of irritants and allergens which elicit inflammatory responses in the dermis. Among the lipids and water-soluble substances removed are natural antibacterials. Their loss leads to increased growth of transient and pathogenic micro-organisms which jeapordizes the very intention of skin hygiene. The kinetics of damage and its repair, and epidemiological evidence suggest that modern synthetic detergents as used in foaming liquid cleansers are the major offender. Conversely, the replacement of detergents with non-detergent emulsion cleansers has been shown to be effective in reducing the prevalence of hand problems among hospital staff. Presently recommended hand antisepsis reduces the risks to patients, but puts the burden on the health care provider. Rather than fighting micro-organisms at the expense of the skin's health, the skin and its own defences should be considered a collaborator in combating infectious diseases.

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