For the record, I'm no safety nazi. In fact, I don't think that powersports junkies in general fit that bill. However, most will agree that it's simply smart to dress for the crash, not the ride. But, do most apply the same logic when dressing for bike repair and maintenance? More specifically, do you take precautions to protect your skin from absorbing the chemicals that you work with?
While we may not feel the affects of chemical absorption immediately like we would the affects from a crash, over time (sometimes sooner), you may be setting yourself up for health issues. The purpose of this article is more to serve as a point of awareness and discussion than anything. At the end of the day, your body, your health, your choice. I contend that simple, inexpensive precautions can spare unnecessary heartache, time, and medical costs.
Skin absorption can quickly transport chemicals both into the skin and ultimately into the body without you even knowing it. For the types of maintenance & repair tasks that riders do, this is likely the most significant avenue of exposure. Some of the chemicals that riders use can potentially result in systemic toxicity if they penetrate through the skin, not only causing skin problems (most common), but other potentially more serious health issues away from the site of entry.
Per the CDC, 90-95% of occupational skin diseases are Contact dermatitis that has symptoms that includes:
- The formation of small blisters or wheals (itchy, red circles with a white center) on the skin
- Dry, flaking, scaly skin that may develop cracks
Much less frequent, but more serious potential problems can include skin cancers and neuropathies (nerve damage), but since there are so many chemical agents out there, their affects on the body are not fully understood by any means. What we do know is that there is absolutely no upside to exposing your skin to the chemicals that riders typically work with.
Here's a free service that allows you to search for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on millions of products: http://www.msds.com/ A MSDS sheet is a detailed information bulletin prepared by the manufacturer or importer of a chemical that describes the physical and chemical properties, physical and health hazards, routes of exposure, precautions for safe handling and use, emergency and first-aid procedures, and control.
So, what's the solution? Stop working on your bike? Hell no! Buy the right gloves and the biggest secret... wear them!
Chemical Resistant Glove Material Guide (courtesy of Granger.com)
I've read people say, "Gloves are too expensive!" I say with record high medical insurance deductibles, are you sure it's cheaper should you end up needing medical care? I'll admit, when I was in my teens and 20s, I was bulletproof and didn't wear chemical resistant gloves. But, a few summers ago, I ended up with a dermatitis from unprotected exposure to a silicone sealant and learned my lesson. It took months for the skin on my hands to finally calm down. I'd have gladly paid the cost of a decades worth of gloves to have avoided!
However, I will concede that there is a legitimate concern at some level of loss of tactile feel that only you can decide how much you're willing to deal with. In some situations, you simply may not be able to complete a specific task with gloves on. However, I don't see this as and all or nothing proposition. You might even consider the thinnest gloves available for more delicate tasks where glove strength isn't a big issue anyway.
We're all going to die of something, but dying is easy! I just don't want to suffer needlessly while I'm here and wearing chemical resistant gloves while wrenching just stacks the deck every so slightly in my favor.
Ok, post your arguments, er, uh, debate points in the comments section below. I'm ok if you call my hands "girly-man hands".
Edited by Bryan Bosch