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Detailing

Hands-on hand care

October 10, 2011
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Keeping today's vehicles shiny and clean can be a very dirty job. Moreover, the value of the hands doing that work must be protected. You cannot make an omelette without cracking a few eggs and you cannot buff a paint finish, shampoo an entire interior, or clean an engine without creating a bit of a mess. A great deal of dirt, grease, oil and other unnamed filth will get on the hands of a detailer performing those services, and, as a conscientious business owner you have an obligation to make sure those precious hands, hands that create a profit for you, are taken care of in such a way that they can continue to perform profitable detail services.

Keeping those hands clean is one thing but overall skin care is vital to an efficiently operated detail business. Without proper skin care, the detailers you rely on become less and less productive and make you less and less profitable.

Clean hands mean higher productivity and more profits. It is the little things that mean a lot, and in this case, a little proper hand maintenance could mean a significant difference. Not to mention the fact that customers will be shaking the hands of the detailer, and they certainly won't want to shake a hand that's dirty or offensive.

A little background

The skin is the body's largest organ and provides a barrier to the environment. It is the body's primary protection against harmful environmental substances, such as chemicals, bacteria, and the weather. Each square centimeter of skin contains over 6 million cells and more than a meter of blood vessels. The skin is composed of three layers:

  • The stratum corneum/epidermis;
  • The dermis; and
  • The basal layer.

The outer layers of the skin, the stratum corneum/epidermis, have a maximum thickness of approximately 1 mm and must remain intact to adequately perform the barrier function. A variety of workplace and other environmental factors result in damage to the skin barrier. That is certainly the case in a detail shop. Solvents, for example, remove the skin's natural lubricants and oils.

Such damage to the skin barrier results in dryness due to excessive water loss through the skin. Weather is a contributing factor to skin condition. The effects of cold, low humidity and wind may result in an exacerbation of a skin disorder.

What is the problem?

Skin disease accounts for nearly 40 percent of all occupational illness cases. This costs the American industry $1 billion annually due to the loss of productivity, medical care costs, and disability payments, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

One in every four workers is exposed to some form of skin irritant in the workplace, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They have included occupational dermatitis in their list of the "Top 10 Most Important Occupational Injuries and Illnesses."

Occupational dermatitis is categorized into two broad types of skin disorders. According to experts, contact dermatitis accounts for approximately 80 percent of all skin problems, while allergic reactions account for approximately 20 percent.

Irritants contact dermatitis is difficult to avoid since it can arise from contact with common workplace substances. Repeated contact with these substances over months or years can result in a chronic skin condition. And it is that kind of chronic condition that can mean lowered productivity, absenteeism and lost work. Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed reaction to a substance that invokes a response by the immune system. In this type, protection from or avoidance of the substance is necessary to relieve symptoms.

The detailing industry irritants

According to my findings, there are somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 detail technicians who deal each and everyday with chemicals that are serious irritants:

  • Engine degreasers;
  • All purpose cleaners;
  • White wall cleaners;
  • Wheel acids;
  • Solvents;
  • Lacquer thinner;
  • Adhesive remover;
  • Glass cleaners;
  • Undercoating; and
  • Oils and lubricants.

All one has to do is check the MSDS (material safety data sheet) on these products to find that most have ingredients that can cause problems to hands and other parts of the body.

The key to hand care is first awareness and then to know what is necessary to ensure that you and your employees have available the proper devices for hand care.


R.L. "Bud" Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is also the executive director of the International Detailing Association and a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors. Abraham can be contacted at buda@detailplus.com.