Don’t be so sure about your skincare products

October 2020

October 2019

You might be thinking the skincare products we use are food approved – they must be fine for our people – don’t be too sure.

If you are faced with the task of choosing what skincare products – (such as hand soaps, hand sanitisers, moisturiser or heavy-duty hand cleaners) – should be used in your workplace, then here are a few things to remember to ensure you make the right choice…

Skin is unique to us

Because our skin is as individual as ourselves, it is almost impossible to provide skin care products that absolutely everyone in your workplace will be happy with – this is especially true in large workplaces with 200 + staff. The reason is that there is a small percentage of the population whose skin reacts to very commonly used skincare ingredients and this will eventually lead to skin irritation, and that individual will not want to keep using the product that is provided.

In the food processing industry, for hygiene reasons, staff should be washing and sanitising their hands a lot more than they would in other industries, so it is really important to choose products that have the least chance of causing this irritation and leading to habits of hand washing/sanitising avoidance setting in.

The winter dry

Before we discuss the types of ingredients that can cause dryness or irritation of the skin, it is important to distinguish between an individual’s skincare problem, and general conditions that affect all of the workforce. An example is everyone’s skin drying out more in the colder winter months. This happens every year and causes cracks to appear around knuckles that start to hurt when washed with soap or sting when sanitised with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Consequently, most people blame the skincare products and say they must have changed because they never used to hurt my hands like this! The solution to this is to provide a good quality moisturising cream for staff to apply after their shift, to help restore the skin to its ‘summer condition’.

What ingredients to look for and avoid

So – what ingredients should you avoid to have the best chance of keeping everyone happy? I’ll break this down into the different types of products mostly used in this industry –

Handwash Soap for use in processing areas:

These days most products like this are made of synthetic detergents, which have superior skin compatibility to traditional soap made with caustic, as they aren’t naturally alkaline like soap. Look for products that are pH adjusted to be as close to 5.5 as possible, as this is the natural pH of your skins mantle, so will be the least irritating.

Coco-diethanolamide is a very common skincare ingredient used for many years but has recently been placed on California’s Proposition 65 register, which is for chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans, so it would make sense to avoid this ingredient.

Choose products that have a reasonable proportion of moisturiser or humectant in them, as this will help to replace moisture removed by the surfactants in the soap which are designed for removing oils and fats.

Alcohol based Hand Sanitisers:

Alcohols used in hand sanitisers such as ethanol and isopropanol are very good at dehydrating or removing moisture from your skin (the same reason why hangovers occur), so it is imperative that any alcohol based sanitiser also contains a good moisturising agent, otherwise your staff’s skin will dry out quickly with regular use.

Do not use products that use ethanol denatured with methanol, as methanol is toxic via absorption through the skin. To encourage usage and compliance, choose foaming style hand sanitisers as these are the nicest and easiest to use, as opposed to the gel or spray type.

Heavy Duty Hand Cleaners:

These are mostly used in your engineering department to clean heavy soils such as oil and grease and carbon from hands. Because they need to tackle more stubborn soils, these types of products normally contain some sort of scrubbing agent.

Thankfully the poly-beads have been banned for environmental reasons, but you should also avoid products that contain harsh abrasives such as pumice or quartz sand. Besides clogging up your drains, these abrasives have very sharp corners on them when seen under a microscope, and this causes fine cuts in the surface of the skin which eventually will lead to callousing or breakdown of the skin surface with prolonged use.

A better bet are products that use natural materials such as crushed walnut shell, olive stones or corn-cobs as the scrubbing agent, as these do not have the sharp edges like the others (check first though that they are okay with your sites allergen policy if you have one).

These heavy-duty products also contain some sort of solvent to help grease removal. Traditionally these have been petroleum derived solvents or kerosene, and also the orange-peel solvent d-Limonene. These are all excellent degreasers, but all are toxic to humans and are listed individually as skin-irritants.

How do I know what my products contain?

It’s a bit of a minefield of products available on the NZ market – simply enter a few details in the form below and we’ll be in touch to help you with what the best choice is for your business.


Post by Glen Senior