Unprotected human skin is an effective barrier against aqueous solutions and most reagents in research laboratories. When working with hazardous materials (biological, chemical, and radiological), the routes of exposure that have the most risk include inhalation through the lungs, exposure to mucus membranes, or penetrating the skin by sharps (percutaneous exposure) or through damage to the skin. Therefore it is important for laboratory staff to ensure that their skin is in good condition to prevent unintended exposures to hazardous materials.
Unfortunately, the most effective way of mitigating infection risks in the laboratory, routine hand washing and the use of alcohol based antiseptic solutions, also dries the skin causing cracking and micro abrasions. To address this concern, OSHA in 1993 stated that hand creams and lotions designed to prevent skin damage, cracking and reduction of skin barrier is not a cosmetic. This is significant since cosmetics are prohibited in research laboratories based upon guidance from the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) 5th Ed.
Therefore, hand creams or lotions that do not contain petroleum based materials, mineral oil, fragrances, dyes or antibiotics should be considered first aid and not cosmetics and can be used in research laboratories with protective gloves.
When selecting protective gloves it should be noted that latex gloves can be damaged by some oil based hand lotions. Nitrile gloves are preferred as they are impermeable to most chemicals and is less likely to be damaged by hand creams or lotions. It is best to purchase hand creams and lotions sold by glove manufacturers to insure the cream is compatible with the glove.
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