Hand dermatitis, also called occupational eczema or hand eczema, can be especially problematic for massage therapists. Painful and unseemly, the blisters, rashes, cracked dry skin and chronic itching can be caused by the very nature of the business: using oils and lotions for the purpose of massage.
Although hand dermatitis is not contagious, it can spread to other parts of your body, including wrists and forearms. In addition, the blisters and cracked skin can lead to secondary issues such as itching, inflammation, redness, pain on contact and potential infection through cracks in the skin or ruptured blisters.
You can use two primary methods to help counter and alleviate chronic hand dermatitis.
Stay Away from the Scents
First, limit contact with unnecessary chemicals. Avoid lotions and creams that contain urea, parabens, latex, and artificial dyes and fragrances. Limit products with essential oils, too. Although these oils are natural, they are very potent and kill natural bacteria on the skin, so using them multiple times daily can cause skin reactions. Common essential oils found in massage oils and creams include lavender or ylang-ylang for fragrance, and rosemary as a preservative.
Get To Know Natural Solutions
Second, get to know natural solutions that can ease dermatitis and its attendant challenges, including inflamed, dry or itchy skin, and infections.
To ease inflammation topically, consider using St. John’s wort or calendula flowers. These can be brewed into a tea with water and used as a rinse, or steeped in a neutral oil such as olive or sunflower, then strained and applied to skin with a cotton ball. Fresh or dried herbs can be used. Also, consider homeopathic stinging nettle; in normal concentrations nettle causes inflammation and an allergic response. Diluted, it helps relieve these conditions.
For dry skin, use a beeswax-based herbal salve containing calendula flowers. The beeswax acts as a moisture barrier and keeps precious moisture in the skin; the calendula is naturally emollient, or soothing, and is anti-inflammatory and anti-itch.
For itchy skin, apply a small amount of a beeswax-based herbal salve containing chickweed, or violet leaf or flower. These are soothing, anti-pruritic herbs, meaning they help reduce itch and thereby reduce the chance of the infection that can happen when you rub and scratch.
If the skin on your hands becomes infected—red, swollen, painful or hard to the touch—you’ll want to kill germs without drying the skin, so avoid astringents. Instead, use a water-based rinse, an oil containing calendula, or pau d’arco, which is the bark of the Tabebuia tree. (Pau d’arco is a strong antiseptic and has been used as a natural remedy for Candida yeast infections, according to the online medical reference WebMD.) Apply it to skin with a cotton ball and cover the area with a clean bandage.
If your hand dermatitis does not improve, contact your health care provider.
Herbalist Holly Bellebuono directs Vineyard Herbs Teas & Apothecary (www.vineyardherbs.com) on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; and The Bellebuono School of Herbal Medicine. The author of several books, including Women Healers of the World: The Traditions, History & Geography of Herbal Medicine, she also leads retreats and workshops internationally and speaks at conferences and universities.