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Skin Res Technol. 2010 May;16(2):229-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0846.2009.00411.x.

Stratum corneum cytokines, structural proteins, and transepidermal water loss: effect of hand hygiene.

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The Skin Sciences Institute, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH45229, USA.



There are few reports on the cytokine response to high frequency hand hygiene among health care workers (HCWs) in an occupational setting. We have observed significant skin barrier compromise consistent with chronic irritant contact dermatitis in HCWs. We hypothesized that repetitive hand hygiene would activate the epidermal inflammatory cascade and lead to changes in structural proteins and cytokines.


Keratin 6, keratin 1, 10, 11, involucrin, IL1alpha, TNFalpha, IL8, IL1RA, and IL10 were analyzed from the SC using bead-based arrays. Knuckle and dorsum samples were evaluated for HCWs (n=23) before and after repetitive hand hygiene and compared with those of age-matched non-wet workers (n=23) without hand skin irritation. Erythema, dryness, and barrier integrity were measured.


Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) was higher for HCWs but unchanged with exposure. IL1alpha and TNFalpha were highest in control volar forearm. IL1alpha, TNFalpha, and IL8 were significantly lower in HCWs than controls despite higher erythema, dryness, and TEWL. Decreases in keratin 1, 10, 11, increases in keratin 6, and reduction in IL1alpha, TNFalpha, and IL8 were seen after hand hygiene.


This preliminary study showed significantly lower SC biomarker levels in HCW compared with controls and regional differences between the hand and forearm. Exposure to repetitive hand hygiene results in substantial chronic skin irritation without time for barrier recovery between work periods. The impact on SC structural proteins and cytokines has many commonalities with chronic inflammation, although mechanistic questions remain.

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