Health
Fact Checked

What are Dishpan Hands?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Dishpan hands is a condition characterized by dry, red, sometimes flaky skin on the hands, usually from excessive exposure to water and various soaps. People who wash dishes regularly may experience some degree of irritation on their hands because soaking the hands in water and soap constantly can deplete the natural oils in the skin and cause dryness. Some people find their skin is more irritated by exposure to the different kinds of soaps used, and discover that using a gentle dish detergent can help this problem immensely.

Once dishpan hands occur, people can have a few options for treating them. Moisturizers and lotions made for dry or damaged skin can help. People affected may want to choose hypoallergenic and fragrance free skin treatments so that raw or dry hands aren’t irritated further. Others advocate the use of natural substances like aloe vera, which may be effective for minor cases. Most important is not exposing the hands to further dish washing and using waterproof gloves or reassigning this chore to someone else.

Excessive exposure to soap and water causes extremely dry, red, flaky skin on the hands.
Excessive exposure to soap and water causes extremely dry, red, flaky skin on the hands.

Sometimes skin irritation gets very significant, and some people who think they have dishpan hands could actually have fungal infections. Exposure to constant moisture creates a perfect environment for fungi to thrive. If the problem doesn’t resolve with a few days’ treatment with moisturizer, or if it worsens and skin starts peeling or is very uncomfortable, people who are suffering with this condition should see a medical professional.

Using gloves when washing dishes can help prevent dishpan hands.
Using gloves when washing dishes can help prevent dishpan hands.

Another condition that can be confused with this condition is contact dermatitis, which may result from exposure to chemicals in dish soap. Severe fungal infections and forms of dermatitis may require prescribed medications for treatment. Delaying proper treatment for either of these conditions can make them worse and lead to great discomfort.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon1005742

I am a professional cook and back of the house restaurant worker, and my hands have been constantly submerged in water and constantly washed. This has made my hands break out in pimples. They are red and inflamed, itchy, wrinkled, dry and scaly, and they are always painful. They tend to cause excruciating, burning pain when I pick up anything, which is from being constantly wet and submerged in industrial soap and degreaser – even bleach.

My knuckles are extruding some kind of stringy stuff and I can't figure out what it is. I went to a dermatologist and she gave me the steroid cream Triamcinolone acetonide ointment usp 0.1% to treat my pimples. I have an anxiety disorder, but thinking she must know what she's doing I applied it to my hands and other areas where I had pimples. This in turn intensified the pimples and caused me to breakout with massive pimples and eruptions.

My family turned on me, assuming that I am a drug addict because they resemble meth sores. I have been trying to show them that I am not, but they don't believe, even with the proof I have shown them. I have an opportunity to better myself and having my dream of owning a restaurant come true. I stopped taking my medicine for my mental issues so that I don't have synthetic drugs in me. This, in turn, also added to my problem.

I hope that you never have to go through this as I am. There are so many close-minded people who assume by looking at our forearms and hands that we are drug addicts. I am determined to find a way that my dishwashers will not have to have this kind of thing happen to them. It's not easy to get rid of dishwasher hands with them being submerged in water and chemicals for up to 8 and 9 hours a day, 5 days a week.

anon949798

This may not be an entirely relevant post here but seeing as how I found this forum searching for a remedy for my specific ailment (and seeing as how I wound up here searching for it) I thought I might as well post my findings.

I recently started working at a restaurant where the money is much better, though the position is lower, a.k.a. dish washer. I have never washed dishes at such a high capacity establishment. My hands are almost constantly submerged in water for the length of my 8 to 9 hour shifts (using a commercial-grade Dawn dish soap and highly diluted bleach). Two such shifts in a row leave my hands and forearms depleted of any moisture (in an extreme sense). I'm talking fish scale in the sun, very painful. My internet search for whether or not I was officially allergic to bleach, etc., led me here, at which point I was sobered a bit and realized the problem was much simpler, albeit beyond basic dehydration of the skin.

My hands are accustomed to high heat and, in previous restaurants, I oftentimes received burns without flinching, but the "dishpan" condition is a different animal. First, I thought I was allergic to the bleach, then I thought that maybe I was using too much soap, then I thought maybe I had contracted a rash of some sort (something bacterial), and finally, after some internet research, realized that the root cause of the irritation was simply the act of dish washing itself. I panicked (since I have to work the same shift again tomorrow morning) and began looking for remedies when I happened across this article and read the comments which were the closest thing to helpful that I could find even though they do not touch on the extreme (read: commercial) cases that are actually very common.

Essentially, when it comes to the commercial dish washer (the human, not the machine) using lotions or exfoliating and the ilk don't quite provide the proper relief. Rubbing lotion (even though mine contains aloe) into the affected skin only burns and leaves one much more aware of the sting (in my experience it feels like nettles, nearly a chemical burning sensation).

I scoured the internet and tried just about everything and found only one combination of "remedies" that truly worked, i.e., took away the stinging pain while also healing the wounded skin: Cortisone cream and Carmex. It truly is an odd and oily solution but really works. The cortisone cream, as a topical steroid, assists in reducing inflammation and irritation (like applying it to a mosquito bite) while the Carmex moisturizes and cools. I like to have a fan blowing gently in my vicinity or venture outdoors to fully feel the raw skin cooled. The Carmex I use is the lip therapy variety. So far, I have only used the little tubes that you squeeze out and apply to your lips since this is all I have had, but does it ever feel good on the raw skin near my wrists! This treatment is, of course, coupled with constant application of a good moisturizing lotion (an old chemistry professor of mine always had "Udder Cream" on deck in the lab since we were constantly washing our hands and to this day, I believe it to be among the best moisturizers).

As I said before, this ailment is new to me and therefore so is the remedy, but it seems to be working out for me better than anything I have seen/tried thus far.

anon312076

I hate having dishpan hands. My hands are really itchy and I thought it was measles at first. Thanks for reassuring me that I did not have measles.

giddion

@orangey03 – I have cracked skin on my hands, and I have found something that soothes them and helps them heal. It's a combination of olive oil, oat powder, and water.

You actually soak your hands in this mixture for five or ten minutes. The water should be warm but not hot, because if it's too hot, it will dry you out even more.

I mix a cup of powdered oats and three tablespoons of olive oil in a pan of warm water. It makes a world of difference.

Kristee

@orangey03 – Try petroleum jelly. That stuff is so greasy that it's impossible not to feel moisturized by it.

orangey03

My dishwasher recently died, and I have been washing everything by hand. I have developed a severe case of dishpan hands, and even the dry skin moisturizer I've been using isn't helping.

I just started wearing gloves while washing dishes today, but there has to be some form of treatment I can do while my hands try to recover. I need something stronger than lotion.

healthy4life

@icecream17 – Scrubbing would be really painful for someone with dishpan hands. I get cracked hands that bleed from washing dishes, and there's no way that I could exfoliate them without doing further damage.

If your hands are simply dry, this might work, but dishpan hands are beyond dry. They are irritated, painful, and basically raw.

If you must do something to open up the pores for better penetration, run hot water over your hands before applying the lotion. The heat will make the pores more willing to receive the moisture, but it won't make them bleed any more or crack.

Moldova

@Icecream17 - I agree with you. I get extremely dry skin especially in my hands because I am constantly washing my hands.

I always keep hand lotion in my purse and another on my night table because I like to moisturize my hands before I go to bed. If I don’t do this my hands will get red and will itch a little and even bleed in some areas.

I try to use hand sanitizer and it doesn’t dry out my skin as much so that does help. I am just paranoid of getting germs which is why I am always washing my hands.

icecream17

I get dish pan hands when I wash dishes manually or if I am in the swimming pool for a long time. I usually use a gentle exfoliating scrub and lightly with the tips of my fingers I work the scrub in a circular motion until I have covered my entire hand. Then I rinse with warm water and place a moisturizing cream on my hands.

This way my hands will be soft and the exfoliation will help the moisturizer penetrate better because if you use the moisturizer without using the scrub then the moisturizer will sit on top of the skin and not penetrate as well. This works well for dry feet as well.

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    • Excessive exposure to soap and water causes extremely dry, red, flaky skin on the hands.
      By: roblan
      Excessive exposure to soap and water causes extremely dry, red, flaky skin on the hands.
    • Using gloves when washing dishes can help prevent dishpan hands.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      Using gloves when washing dishes can help prevent dishpan hands.
    • If the condition does not improve after using moisturizer for a few days, the person may have a fungal infection.
      By: roblan
      If the condition does not improve after using moisturizer for a few days, the person may have a fungal infection.
    • People with dishpan hands should use moisturizers designed for dry and cracked skin..
      By: Africa Studio
      People with dishpan hands should use moisturizers designed for dry and cracked skin..
    • Someone who frequently washes dishes by hand might develop dishpan hands.
      By: kmiragaya
      Someone who frequently washes dishes by hand might develop dishpan hands.