Talc and petroleum jelly among the best lubricants for people wearing PPE, study finds — ScienceDaily
For frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) like face visors, googles, and respiratory protective equipment is an essential part of working life. More workers are wearing facial PPE now than ever before, often for extended periods of time, to protect them against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
However, extended PPE use, particularly on the delicate skin of the face, can cause friction and shear injuries like skin tears, blistering, ulcers, and hives.
The effects of friction and shear can be reduced by lubricants, which workers are advised to apply every half hour. Half-hourly applications can be impractical during shift work and may expose workers to the virus, and many typical moisturisers don’t last long as they are designed to be absorbed into the skin for a ‘non-greasy feel’.
Now, researchers from Imperial College London have investigated which products create the longest-lasting protective layer between PPE and skin. They hope their findings will help healthcare workers and other long-term PPE users like those in hospitality to prevent skin injury and deformity.
They found that the best lubricants to use are those that don’t absorb into the skin, creating a long-lasting layer of protection between skin and PPE. They say that non-absorptive creams like coconut oil-cocoa butter beeswax mixtures, and powders like talcum powder, are most likely to provide PPE wearers with long-lasting skin protection.
The findings are published today in PLOS ONE.
Lead author Dr Marc Masen, of Imperial’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “We think of moisturisers as good for our skin, but commercial skin creams are often designed to absorb into the skin without leaving any residue. While this is fine for everyday moisturising, our study shows that a greasy residue is precisely what’s needed to protect skin from PPE friction.”
To identify the best-performing lubricants, the researchers custom-built a tribometer — an instrument that assesses friction between two surfaces — and used it to test the friction between skin and polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which is a common component of PPE.
They used the tribometer to test commercially available products to measure how they changed the friction between PDMS and the inner forearm skin of a healthy 44-year-old male participant. They tested friction upon application, and then one, two, and four hours after application.
They found that while most products initially reduced friction by 20 per cent, some silicone-based and