By Daryl Conner
How are your hands? Your wonderful, capable, creative hands. Is your skin rough, dry, cracked and irritated? Healthy skin is our first line of defense against bacteria, and maintaining healthy skin is important.
As professional pet groomers, our hands take a beating. Even though the skin on our hands is thicker than it is on most other areas of the body, it can suffer damage in our line of work. Many groomers suffer from dermatitis, the word used to describe inflammation of the skin. There are many reasons for this:
- Frequent exposure to water. Skin has natural surface oils called lipids that help keep moisture locked in the skin. Repeated exposure to water removes those lipids. When this happens, moisture can leak out of the skin.
- Regular contact with shampoo. Pet Shampoo is designed to help remove dirt and oil from pets’ coats. Each time we wash a dog or cat, we are exposing the skin on our hands and arms to those oil–removing products. Combine that with the water, and you can see that moisture is being stripped from our skin at every turn.
- Contact allergy to preservatives. The shampoos and conditioners we use on pets contain preservatives. Hand lotions do as well. It can be possible to develop an allergy to preservatives, and repeated exposure can wreak havoc on your skin.
- Continual contact with hair. Yes, that’s right. Pet hair can cause skin irritation. Not only can the texture of it abrade our skin, pet hair can carry allergens and irritants on it, and sharp, freshly cut hair can penetrate our skin or get under our nails causing hair splinters. These can be fiercely irritating as well as difficult to remove, and can open our skin up to infections.
- Mechanical injuries. Injuries from scissors, clippers, sharp claws, and teeth can damage skin, leaving wounds that, at the least, are irritating, and at the most, can let infections get a start.
- Warm air from dryers. The air from our dryers is great at removing the moisture from pets’ coats so we can style them. Sadly, it also blasts moisture from our skin as we work.
So, what is a hard–working groomer to do?
We can’t very well avoid hair, water, or shampoo. Here are some steps you can take to help care for your hands:
- Avoid wearing jewelry such as rings and bracelets when you work. Water, hair care products and even hair splinters can be trapped under the jewelry, irritating your skin.
- Talk to a pharmacist and get a recommendation for a high–quality moisturizer that does not contain perfume. There are products that add moisture, and some even act as a barrier, bonding to the outmost skin cells to prevent moisture loss from the deeper layers and thus shielding your skin from damage. Not all skin care products are created equal. Investing in an excellent product can make a big difference.
- Before and after work, wash your hands carefully with warm water and mild soap. Glycerin soaps are especially kind to dry skin. Dry them with a soft, absorbent cloth, paying special attention to wrists, finger tips and the spaces between fingers. Apply a high–quality moisturizer and allow it to air dry on your skin.
- Wear gloves when you go outside in cold weather.
- Apply moisturizer frequently during the day, especially after contact with water.
- If your hands are very dry, soak them in warm water for several minutes just before you go to bed. Pat them dry, then immediately apply a thick moisturizing ointment (see below) and cover your hands with cotton gloves.
Lotions, creams, & ointments. Which to choose?
- Skin lotions are thin, contain a lot of water, and while they offer temporary relief of dryness, they don’t do a lot to protect your skin.
- Skin creams are thicker, and feel heavier. They tend to offer more protection than lotion.
- Skin ointments may feel thick and greasy. Due to their texture, they tend to bond well to the outer layer of the skin, allowing the deeper layers to retain moisture.
I remember back in the dark ages when I was a new groomer, and there was not much in the way of hair repellent clothing available. I would come home at night, grab a pair of tweezers, and start plucking hairs that were embedded in my neck, chest and arms. I was a newlywed at the time and my husband never failed to sarcastically remark on how “appealing” it was to see his bride plucking dog hair out of her chest. Thankfully, times have changed. Hair resistant clothing options are now impressive, and tools such as the Clipper Vac have been huge game changers.
If you do get hair splinters, try soaking the affected area with Epsom salts, (or apply a compress.) This softens the surrounding skin, and can make the splinter far easier to remove. Facial masques that are applied, allowed to dry, and then peeled off can work wonders too. Drawing salves, such as Prid, are available at most pharmacies and can be extremely helpful when dealing with annoying hair splinters.
Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet. Foods rich in antioxidants will help you maintain healthy skin from the inside out.
If you continue to be plagued by irritated skin on your hands even after trying the above steps, consult a dermatologist. Sometimes a prescription cream or ointment will be necessary to heal your skin.
Our hands are some of the most valuable tools we have, and taking care of our skin is an important part of caring for ourselves. ✂