Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(6):1039-1040

Skin diseases and injuries are the most common job-related medical problems. Workers of all ages and in almost all jobs can get skin problems.

You are more likely to get a skin problem if you work in certain jobs. Some of these jobs are in manufacturing, food production, construction, machine tool operation, printing, metal plating, leather processing, engine service, landscaping, farming, or forestry.

If you use chemicals or other substances in your work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires your workplace to provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each chemical. The MSDS will describe any known risk for skin irritation, skin allergy, or skin cancer. Be sure to read each MSDS your company provides.

Skin Problems

Irritation and Rashes. The most common job-related skin problems are skin irritation and rashes. These problems happen when skin comes into contact over and over with water, chemicals, and other substances.

Over time, contact with solvents, many soaps, and even water removes natural oils from your skin. This can cause your skin to crack and become dry or chapped.

Cutting and lubricating oils and greases can block skin pores. This can cause acne or skin irritation.

Contact with acids, alkalis, or heavy metals can cause painful burns.

Skin Allergies. Contact with even small amounts of some substances can cause skin allergies. Common causes of work-related skin allergies include acrylate glues (super glues), epoxies, textile dyes or resins, and latex.

A list of chemicals that can cause skin allergies is available on the Internet at:

Skin Cancer. People who work outside and have lots of sun exposure are at risk for skin cancer. This cancer may not show up for many years.

Protection in the Workplace

Your workplace should be kept clean. Proper waste containers should be in place.

All chemicals should be safely stored and correctly labeled. An MSDS should be available for any dangerous substance used in your work.

If strong acids or dangerous chemicals are used in your workplace, eye baths and safety showers should be available.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Here are some things you can do:

  • Wear gloves, aprons, and other protective clothing to keep your skin from coming in contact with oils, greases, and chemicals.

  • Wear clean clothes to work, and take off oil-soaked or chemical-soaked work clothes right after work.

  • Do not clean your hands or other skin areas with gasoline, kerosene, mineral spirits, or turpentine.

  • After you wash your hands, protect your skin with petroleum jelly, a lotion, or a cream.

  • Know what to do if your skin comes in contact with a dangerous material—how to get the material off your skin and how to get medical help.

  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in your work area. Doing so can bring chemicals in close contact with your skin.

  • If you work outdoors, put sunscreen on your skin several times a day. In addition, wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and a shirt or jacket with long sleeves.

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Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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