What are barrier creams? Why moisturize?
The COVID-19 situation in which we currently live leads us to revisit, change and / or improve certain habits in our everyday life. Whether at work, at home or in the few outings necessary for restocking, hand care has become a priority for all of us and more specifically for front line, healthcare, dental or any workers who must wear gloves. Keeping the skin of your hands intact and healthy is key to infection control. Frequent handwashing is a primary cause of irritant as soaps and detergents have been described as the most damaging of all substances applied to the skin.
A skin’s barrier is formed by the outermost layer of the skin—called the stratum corneum that contains the protein keratin and dead skin cells that are held together by a lipid intercellular matrix. It has a protective role by preventing water loss. With frequent handwashing, increased exposure to water and wearing gloves frequently, damage to the skin’s barrier can lead to dryness, inflammation, dermatitis or even allergic reactions. You can read more about hand dermatitis here. Broken skin can also provide a direct route for organisms to enter and spread. Painful, dry and chapped hands can also be a deterrent to proper handwashing among healthcare professionals, so it is crucial to moisturize properly and often as a means to protect one of the body’s first defense—intact skin.
Barrier creams are products applied directly onto the skin that help maintain natural properties, protect from irritants and prevent the skin from drying out. They can be formulated in several ways including pastes, ointments and sprays. The ingredients can be classified as occlusive or humectants. Occlusive ingredients are insoluble in water and include petroleum jelly, silicone/dimethicone and zinc oxide. Humectants increase the skin’s ability to hold on to water and include glycerine, sorbital, urea, seaweed extract, hyaluronic acid and alpha hydroxy acids. Petroleum-based products are most effective in reducing the skin’s water loss and maintains hydration. Silicone/dimethicone creams are less greasy and may be preferred. It is crucial to remember these ingredients are NOT compatible with gloves-especially latex and will degrade—thus compromising its protection. Therefore, it may be best for a frequent glove wearer to use such products at home or end of day.
Just as a frequent glove wearer needs to be choose the best time for a specific cream/lotion, one must be mindful regarding the added perfumes and fragrances, as they can irritate the skin and potentially cause a reaction. To seal in water moisture, wash and thoroughly dry hands, then apply the cream/lotion immediately after. To read more about Tips to keep your hands healthy click here