The aim was to study self-reported skin exposure in individuals from the general population with or without hand eczema. In a population-based study in 1996 using postal questionnaires to 3000 individuals, 215 of 2218 (9.7%) reported hand eczema during the past 12 months. 182 (85%) of those with hand eczema and 182 without hand eczema, matched for age and sex, participated in telephone interviews in 1997 regarding exposure to skin irritants at work and in leisure time. No differences were shown in occupational exposure to water, hand washing or chemicals in individuals with or without hand eczema. Women reported more wet exposure than men at work and in leisure time. A correlation was found between occupational wet exposure and wet work at home. Persons in high-risk occupations reported more frequent exposure to skin irritants. However, 53% in high-risk occupations reported exposure to water and detergents for less than half-hour a day and 11% in low-risk occupations for more than half-hour a day. In conclusion, individuals with or without hand eczema seem to have similar exposure to skin irritants. Using job titles as a proxy for exposure gives misclassification, which may result in underestimation of the hand eczema risk.