What are Barrier Creams?

June 16, 2020

What are barrier creams?

Skin tissue is frequently exposed to various irritating substances in the workplace, particularly for wet work (work involving wet hands or hand washing), which can lead to the development of occupational contact dermatitis. That’s why it is important for workers to use barrier creams to minimize their risk of skin damage on-the-job.

What is a skin barrier?

Before you can understand what barrier creams are, you must understand what a skin barrier is. The skin barrier is a critical component of our body's largest organ, the skin. It acts as a protective shield, composed of a delicate balance of skin cells and intercellular material that provides a waterproof boundary. This barrier serves as the first line of defense against external threats such as pathogens, UV radiation, and environmental toxins.

What is barrier cream?

Barrier creams are a type of skin cream used for hand protection; they are categorized as barrier protection creams or barrier creams and barrier repair creams. Barrier creams are used to prevent irritation caused by occupational exposure to irritants and are recommended to be applied before and during work.  

What is barrier cream used for? 

Barrier creams have also been called pre-work creams, invisible gloves, or skin protective creams. They are meant to delay penetration of substances into the skin and are used to reduce the irritant effect of substances.  

What is a barrier repair cream? 

Barrier repair creams, also called ‘regeneration creams’, ‘conditioning creams’, ‘emollients’ or ‘moisturizers’, are intended to enhance hydration and to restore the skin’s natural barrier. They are especially recommended for use after work. 

When should you apply skin barrier cream? 

If there is a risk of exposure to an irritant, workers should apply a barrier cream before starting work.  

What causes irritant contact dermatitis?  

Acute or chronic exposure to irritants can lead to irritant contact dermatitis, representing 80% of all Occupational Contact Dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by a non-immunological reaction which may be immediate or cumulative over time. It presents as itchy, dry skin or a rash on swollen, reddened skin. 

Who is at risk for irritant contact dermatitis? 

Irritant contact dermatitis is found mainly in ‘wet-work’ occupations such as household-cleaning workers, dishwashers, people who work in the food industry such as bakers, health care workers, hairdressers, or metal workers. 

How do barrier creams work? 

Barrier creams seem to have protective effects against irritants. These creams act as a supporting layer for the skin’s defense and helps the skin retain moisture. Barrier creams also make the hands easier to clean especially with the removal of oils, greases, and resins. There are specialty creams to protect the skin in cold weather and prevent excess sweat build up inside gloves.  

Are barrier creams a replacement for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) gloves? 

Barrier creams are not the same as, or a replacement for PPE gloves. This is a misconception by some workers due to the word “barrier”, they do not replace PPE. In work tasks involving wet work, gloves can be a hazard limiting dexterity and pose risk of getting caught in a machine.  

What is the best barrier cream? 

There are many barrier creams on the market and are best suited for exposure to solvents, wet work, and multi-component resins. Just like selecting a glove, a barrier cream needs to match the task and hazard encountered by the worker.  

Who is responsible for providing barrier creams to workers?

Workplaces should provide barrier creams. A worker may unknowingly introduce contamination into the work process if they bring a barrier cream from home. Placing specifically chosen cream around the workplace where hand washing may occur will increase the use of barrier creams. 

What are pre-work protective barrier creams? 

Pre-work protective barrier creams offer added protection from contaminants and chemicals causing skin irritation. It is important that the employer and the worker carefully read the SDS data to help determine what type of PPE or protective cream to use for the task. Barrier creams can help reduce risks for skin irritation and keep employees productive at work.