Background and problem: Wet work and skin exposure to detergents or solvents are well-established causes of irritant hand dermatitis. In contrast, physical irritation of the skin as another potential cause of occupational hand dermatitis has been investigated less.
Material and methods: Our study included 71 individuals exposed to physical irritation during work in the dispatch department of two newspaper printing plants. Clinical examination and measurements of transepidermal water loss (TEWL), capacitance and skin surface pH of the skin of hands and forearms was performed.
Results: Erythema and/or scaliness of the hands were unexpectedly common: 26 of the 38 female inlay workers, 11 of the 13 male inlay workers and 15 of the 20 male machine operators were affected, compared to 18 of 28 printers exposed to solvents who had been investigated in a previous study. A significantly higher skin surface pH on the hands (P<0.05) and, less pronounced, on the forearms (P>0.05) was found in females. There was no association between domestic skin exposure, according to questionnaire data, and the bioengineering results. Skin cleansing and skin care differed between male and female workers, but were again not associated with the outcomes.
Conclusions: The point prevalence of skin changes in dispatch department workers in the present study is unexpectedly high, which points to the importance of physical irritation by paper dust. Significant differences in bioengineering parameters between male and female inlay workers were found only for skin surface pH at the exposed back of hands. Future studies should (i) try to elucidate the role of skin surface pH changes and (ii) pay more attention to physical trauma to the skin.