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  1. #1
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    Mechanics' eczema?

    Calling all mechanics! I've been a bicycle mechanic for two years now and have never had any skin problems other than the odd scratch or cut.

    About two weeks ago, after I returned from my holiday, I quickly developed sore hands, as in cracks in the skin, patches of irritated reddened skin, small speckles that looked like goose bumps and, before it got out of hand (pun intended) and I went to see a doctor, patches of skin just coming off.

    My doctor instantly diagnosed it as eczema and gave me some pills and an ointment. It does help a bit and everyday it gets a little better, but every time I wash my hands at work, which is about 4-5 times a day, my hands feel like they are on fire. I've considered wearing gloves, but they just do not seem like a practical solution.

    My colleague took one look and said it was mechanics eczema and that it does not cure easily and could get progressively worse. For your information, I do use a moisturizing hand cream every day after work in addition to the hormone-ointment i got from my doctor.


    Has anyone ever experienced this or something similar to this? Any input would be appreciated, because, obviously, this condition is not very 'handy' when you are a mechanic :-)

  2. #2
    Curmudgeon Wil Davis's Avatar
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    I don't know how old you are, but I had eczema as a kid, and it was so embarrassing, and so bloody irritating! On my hands, and the soft skin in the folds of my arms and the backs of my knees, the skin would dry out, and crack and bleed! I felt just like a leper! Argghh, it was hell!

    Anyway, as I got older, the eczema gradually got better, but even now, in winter my skin still tends to dry out and crack (especially the tips of the fingers) to the point of bleeding, so I use a hand-cream.

    One of the best I've found is "Sorbolene", which I came across when I was in NZ and Oz, but here (in the USA) I can't find it, so I use "Cetaphil" which is very good, and "Eucerin" which is like industrial-strength Sorbolene.

    I wonder if you have a type of contact dermatitis; I suppose wearing latex gloves wouldn't be practical. The fact that it only recently started might indicate that it's a reaction to something; perhaps you're using a different soap, or have started using a different de-greasing chemical at work…

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  3. #3
    Fun in the tub, no ring! mrbubl's Avatar
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    try a good quality nitrile glove, unpowdered (Safeskin is a great brand) till it clears.

  4. #4
    B-b-b-b-b-b-bicicle Rider orange leader's Avatar
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    This sounds a little like dry skin (cracking) but also like an allergic reaction (bumps). Keep up with the lotion, that can also help with the allergy too by preventing more of the allergen from getting into your skin. compromised skin (scrapes, open sores, cracks) allows a lot of stuff into your body, so it will make contact allergies worse.

    I personally get sensitive to heavily perfumed soaps aftere, so I need to switch soaps sometimes. I don't personally have a latex allergy, but I know several people who can't wear latex gloves or else their hands start looking like raw meat.

    So try to eliminate certain things around the shop which may be suspects, and see if a week or so without them will cure you. It may be harsh hand soap (meant to remove heavy dirty oils and grease), it may be latex in tires and tubes. It may be some other cleaner you use around the shop.

    Don't just think about "harsh" chemical stuff either, "natural" products, like citrus cleaners could also cause this, since they are not in a natural state, they are highly concentrated. Remember, Cyanide is a natural ingredient (produced by apples (in the seeds, and many millipedes) , but if you consume too much of it.......aaachk. Even too much water can alter your blood ph and kill you. So my last point is even if it's an "all natural" or "organic" product, it may still be the cause of an allergy.

    As far as the lotion goes, I can highly recomend a brand called Renew which is made by Melaleuca. If you have access to someone who buys melaleuca products, ask them to sell you a bottle. It cleared up my son's eczema in a matter of days, and it's only meant to be regular dry skin lotion, but it beats lubriderm and Eucerine, by a long shot, in my humble opinion. to get it you're supposed to join their buyers club, and then you have to buy a certain amount of stuff each month (other stuff too, not just lotion). we buy it, but it's not for everyone.
    Last edited by orange leader; 09-06-07 at 02:50 PM. Reason: more info
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  5. #5
    Unobtanium-Based Lifeform calamarichris's Avatar
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    Another vote for nitrile gloves. Lubricants, solvents and cleansers that keep metal heathy wreak havoc on we organic, absorbent primates.
    I've also heard that switching to Oolong tea for a little while will help with Eczema.
    Good luck and let us know how it goes.
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    i had been fixing a lot of bikes earlier this month (im a home mechanic, sometimes fixing neighbors bikes) and my skin started peeling, like a new blister i guess, but only where a lot of grease was. i think maybe it clogs poors and stuff, and its not like grease and oil is good for our skin, so eithor where gloves, or get some time off work. id recomment doubling them if it works, so you have extra protection. good luck!
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  7. #7
    rebmeM roineS JanMM's Avatar
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    washing a lot with soap and water might not be helping, either. that can really dry out your skin.

  8. #8
    Senior Member MudPie's Avatar
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    I don't have eczema, but get dry skin when the hot Santa Ana winds blow. The skin on my torso, and legs gets real itchy. My knuckles and the back of my hands crack and sometimes bleed - very painful. During those conditions, I use a glycerin based hand and body soap (bar or liquid). Seems like the glycerin based soaps don't dry out the skin like normal soap. Also, I use "Corn Huskers" lotion when I want to refresh my dry skin. "Corn Huskers" does not leave a greasy feel and does not have an odor. It might even be a glycerin based lotion (I don't know). Worth a try, I suppose.

  9. #9
    The Red Lantern Rev.Chuck's Avatar
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    Hmmm. I have been a mechanic for 23 years(And have worked with much nastier stuff than what you find in the bike shop) and I have not seen this on myself or any guy I worked with.

    It does sound like really dry skin but you need to find out what is causing the dry skin. I try to only wash my hands before eating or wrapping bars to keep them from drying out to much. I also use lotion in the winter months.

    Gloves can really help but I hate using them myself.
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  10. #10
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    My sister has dry cracking skin in the colder months. Her dermatologist told her to use bag balm. You can give that a try. It does work for her.

    To echo what a few others have said, wear gloves to keep the grease off of your hands. The grease and/or all of the scrubbing is probably the root cause (Note: I am not a doctor, so take this at face value as common sense).

  11. #11
    Grumbly Goat Bushman's Avatar
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    Nitrile gloves (unpowdered), and use Uecerul after every handwash !

    avoid CITRUS based degreasers, as they are very very harsh to the skin. A lot (over 95%) of so called "natural" citrus degreasers and washes, contain HEAVY amounts of industrial surfectants and ingredients, with a VERY small amount of actual real citrus oils.

    Treat yourself to a really heavy duty pair of rated solvent gloves, made from flocked (lined) heavy duty rubber. Your hands will thank you every time you dip parts and scrub chains in the solvent tank or citrus tank.

    Simple Green "can" be used instead, but a lot of mechanics (auto) are now developing skin conditoons from using it. Wear gloves.


    When washing your hands, dont get hardcore with the scrubbing, this can really irritate the skin. Same with drying your hands, don wring the dry with the towels (paper or otherwise). PAT them dry, then use the Eucrel cream.

    Like RevChuck, i too have worked in mech shops, using Xylene, Varsols, carb dip tanks and other highly toxic chemicals to clean industrial parts. wearing the gear was a mUST, and i'm glad i follow that regime of safety wear.



    good luck. I know mechanics that can no longer work as a result of skin conditions...
    You ride a bike, we GET IT, no need to rant about it or look down on others....its JUST A BIKE...get over yourselves.

  12. #12
    Cries on hills supton's Avatar
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    What's the diff between latex and nitrile gloves? I've been using latex gloves lately for the minor work I do, and they get me by pretty good. Even if they tear once in a while. Is nitrile more resistant to breaking down from solvents?
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    Eczema is not to be taken lightly. Like Wil Davis, I had a very bad case of eczema as a child right through my teen years until I was a young adult. To this day I am allergic to cigarette smoke, including second hand smoke. If you have only seen a GP doctor, I strongly recommend an allergist or dermatologist.
    The recommendations so far assume you've suddenly become allergic to something you've been in contact with for quite a while. I doubt that would trigger such a reaction. Look for something that's new in your life. A girlfreind with a new perfume, a new detergent, ANY NEW PET especially a cat, dog or rabbit, a new cleaning agent, a new employee at the shop that smokes, could trigger such a reaction in an adult. One of my memories is a doctor explaining to me that Eczema has been linked to a nervous reaction. What can I say, it's a weird disease.
    Lotions, creams and drugs can treat symptoms, but something is triggering a reaction. I found the cause that "triggered" my eczema when I was a young adult and then found how to treat it. I really hope you find what's triggered this change so you can address it.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member halfspeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by supton View Post
    What's the diff between latex and nitrile gloves? I've been using latex gloves lately for the minor work I do, and they get me by pretty good. Even if they tear once in a while. Is nitrile more resistant to breaking down from solvents?
    Many people are allergic to latex so using them to deal with a skin problem could be counterproductive.

  15. #15
    tired donnamb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by halfspeed View Post
    Many people are allergic to latex so using them to deal with a skin problem could be counterproductive.
    Or life-threatening, as in my case. Try unpowdered nitrile. Unlike latex proteins, nitrile doesn't begin to break down when exposed to petroleum by-products.
    "Real wars of words are harder to win. They require thought, insight, precision, articulation, knowledge, and experience. They require the humility to admit when you are wrong. They recognize that the dialectic is not about making us look at you, but about us all looking together for the truth."

  16. #16
    Rat Bastard mcoomer's Avatar
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    I've been an electronics tech for 20+ years, using all sorts of chemicals (toluene, isopropol, acetone, etc.) and had never been affected using them. Well, a few years back I had a reaction that sounds a lot like yours with redness and irritation, small bumps, and cracking. After a couple of trips to the doc a dermatologist gave me some cream and put me in nitrile gloves. The symptoms gradually diminished and my skin healed. I was told that the chemicals that I use at work are abosorbed by the skin and over time can cause acute reactions. Sometimes it happens with very little use, sometimes it can take years to develop, and sometimes symptoms never occur. Her advice to me was to avoid using chemicals without the protection of gloves and to wash my hands thoroughly after using them, even though I used gloves to prevent contact with my skin. I have been free of symtoms for probably just over a year following her advice and that's what I'd recommend to you. Gloves followed by soap and water.

    Good luck.
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    So this happened quickly after returning from a holiday. Now where have those hands been? One mechanic that I know of is having the same type problem. He has found that the use of dawn dishwashing detergent as a hand cleaner is helping him. I remember the old palmolive dishwashing detergent commercials where ladies were soaking their hands in it at the beauty shop. I guess that most people have automatic dishwasher and they don't advertise how gentle it is anymore.

    Good luck and heal fast. There is too much stuff broken for you to be taking a sick break.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by supton View Post
    What's the diff between latex and nitrile gloves? I've been using latex gloves lately for the minor work I do, and they get me by pretty good. Even if they tear once in a while. Is nitrile more resistant to breaking down from solvents?
    As an official lab rat, I know the answer to this.

    Latex gloves are thinner and weaker, and there are many organic solvents that will pass through them fairly readily. You'll find that they are stretchier though, and you have a better "feel" for things with them. Many people are allergic to latex though (fairly rare), so they're simply not an option. Also, latex gloves tend to get brittle over time and exposure to air. I go through probably a box and a half a week, and towards the end of the box I always notice them tearing allot more when I put them on

    Nitrile gloves are required in biosaftey labs 3 (no resporators, but negatively pressurized environment, required facemask etc..) and up mainly because they are so much tougher. Its allot harder to tear or penetrate a nitrile then a latex glove, which is the main reason why we wear them where it counts... that wouldn't be a bad thing for a mechanic either. Many organic solvents will still go straight through them, so if they take a chemical spill, peel them off and get another pair. Obviously there are some downsides, loss of dexterity, and higher cost.

    As for using two pairs of gloves and double bagging... thats certainly overkill for a mechanic. We only do that when we are required to, which is when working with an especially nasty virus or bacteria. The idea here is that if the outer glove is penetrated, we can put another glove on top of it, and still be safe.

  19. #19
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    Very interesting discussion. I'm learning a lot. I get the same effect for about two weeks after using certain household cleansers. My wife uses rubber gloves. The last time it was my turn to do the bathrooms I went without them and had very badly peeling, cracked, and redened hands for 2 to 3 weeks.
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  20. #20
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    Wow, overwhelming resonse here and a lot of different suggestions. I'm not sure what to do next, but I think I will finish my doctor's prescription for the pills (another two weeks) and if things haven't improved by then, will go and see a dermatologist.

    And no, my hands haven't been anywhere but on my own girlfriend during the holiday ;-)
    Interesting theory about new substances maybe having been introduced in the last couple of weeks. I will try and find anything new.

    Thanks guys ( and girls)!

  21. #21
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    Having had eczema all my life, I know just how bad it can be (bright red, itchy, shedding skin, swelling up like a sausage) and I imagine it can be much worse.
    Eczema on the palms or the soles of your feet can be extremely painful when the callouses begin to crack and peel, especially if it gets infected. If it gets very sore and somewhat swollen you might want to try some antibiotic ointment on it (just make sure you are not allergic to it).
    If it is contact eczema do your best to avoid the cause and you should be much better, trying to figure out what it is from can be frustrating.
    If it is something else it's a lot more tricky.
    The standard treatment is corticosteroids, either oral like prednisone or topical like triamcinalone ointment.
    Prednisone's side effects can be extremely unpleasant or extremely nice - for me it's usually very bad and the long term side affects are quite nasty. Topicals, used over very long times (years of very large amounts) can have very bad side affects, too.
    Antibiotics are frequently added to the mix and can help very much if the cause is bacterial or if there is a secondary skin infection.
    Topical immunosupresents like tacrolinus, can work well but the U.S. CDC has issued a blackbox warning for them due to a strong link between them and skin cancer.
    Narrow band UVB therapy can be helpful for a great many eczema sufferers especially in reducing the itchiness (or so I'm told - I'm too sensitive to to it to be treated).
    Finally there is oral immunosupressants like cyclosporin and cellcept, treatments usually used for people with organ transplants. Hope you never get this bad.
    Good luck.

  22. #22
    Senior Member halfspeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by randomgear View Post
    Finally there is oral immunosupressants like cyclosporin and cellcept, treatments usually used for people with organ transplants. Hope you never get this bad.
    Good luck.
    I think etanercept (Enbrel) is sometimes also used, but that's a self-adminstered injection originally used for rheumatoid arthritis.

  23. #23
    Elitist Troglodyte DMF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Batavus View Post
    And no, my hands haven't been anywhere but on my own girlfriend during the holiday ;-)
    AHA !!!


    Simple. You're allergic to sex.

  24. #24
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    As far as moisturizers go, one of the best, and cheapest, is Vaseline - petroleum jelly.
    I have even read that it can be used in a pinch for packing hubs. I suspect it wouldn't last through many wet rides.

  25. #25
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    Our Fleet manager developed an alergy to the hand cleaner, Swarfega, I think it was called. a green jelly. He felt it was the petro-chemicals, engine oil causing the rash. It took a long time to figure it out. And he almost gave up his job. He switched the hand cleaner and it cleared up almost right away.

    It could also be the "moisturizer" you're using to combat the dry feeling you have after using a hand cleaner to wash up at day's end. It takes a little more effort to clean up, but has less additives to cause harm to your skin but a nail brush does wonders, believe me, I did a lot of work with rusty re enforcing steel, and used to cleaned my hands with a soapy pot scrubber and a nail brush. Convenience has it's price.

    Change everything, hand cleaner, for gloves use the nitrile ones, they are stronger than latex. Also, change your hand cream, get something ment for babies, or try neutrogena which is also gentle.

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