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Dermatitis or eczema on Gardener’s Hands

Posted Jan 26 2009 3:40pm

Although dermatitis, or Eczema, is a specialist subject, it is of great interest to the vegetable gardener because their hands are used (& abused!) all the time, and often succumb to dermatitis.

The gardener’s hands must be treated well so that they remain healthy and able to work. But the skin on hands may become sensitive, so that it is easily irritated by different factors including, stress, water, some foods, irritants like soap and chemicals, allergic reactions to cats, wool, infections and many more.

The immune system in the body then overreacts to these allergens, causing inflamed, irritated, or sore skin.

How to take control of bad hands:

1. The gardener should try to work out what is the irritating factor. This can be done by avoiding certain things (such as cats, or wool) & seeing if the skin improves.
2. Meanwhile, whilst trying to pinpoint the problem, the hands should be kept clean by washing with cleansers that suit sensitive skins. There are several alkali-free & soap free cleansers.

Sara from farmingfriends asked:

Do you have any brands that you recommend?

Sebamed is an ideal cleanser for sensitive skins - it has a pH of 5.5 & is soap free. Solopol is a heavy duty hand cleaner made from walnuts, which is very safe on skin.
3. Keep the skin moist all the time with a scent free moisturizer. E45 suits most sensitive skins. E45 must be applied every time the skin is washed, or between times when the skin feels dry.

Naturally Nancies handcream is said to be an excellent product, especially if applied *before* hitting the garden.
4. Look after the immune system.

  • Give it a chance to do its stuff.
  • Rest - if the skin is bad. Do not get over tired.
  • Drink lots of pure water.
  • Try to simplify things - do not confront the hands with too many enemies. The immune system can easily cope with one or two irritants. On a good day it can probably cope with 5 or 6. But give it 7 nasty things to cope with and it completely breaks down or gives up. So, if the gardener is under stress, allergic to cats and wool, don’t spray the garden and eat wash the car without gloves. The overload of nasty factors will probably tip the balance.

5. Reduce exposure to possible nasties -

  • cover up - wear gloves.
  • gloves should be:



absorbent, to keep hands dry

made of non-allergic, washable material

DermaSilk gloves, which were developed specifically for those people who suffer from eczema or contact dermatitis on their hands, are excellent inside normal gardening gloves.

The following chart comes from the Handbook of Occupational Dermatology by Lasse Kanerva & shows the different gloves available. Click the image to enlarge it.


There is no one answer for everyone, because everyone is different. But by being aware of the problem, and of how the gardeners body works and reacts, one is able to take positive action to control dermatitis.
6. Consider possible food allergies - Yeast is thought to be involved in dermatitis - try cutting down on yeast products.

Click the link for basic rules on hand protection which help reduce the occurrence of dermatitis or eczema on the Vegetable gardener’s hands.

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