Skin problems can come up when you wear any sort of covering on your face. This can happen with cloth masks which you might wear when you're going to grocery stores. Or it can happen with surgical masks which a lot of health care workers wear on a more extreme level. We see on the news where a lot of health care workers who work closely with Covid-19 patients will be wearing these for hours on end so here's a guide to the common skin issues that might happen when you're wearing a mask and how to deal with them.
What do masks do to your skin?
Wearing a mask for a long time causes skin irritation issues. This includes dryness, itching, and redness. This is called irritant contact dermatitis. This happens because of the extra heat from the mask and the fact that your breath and your heat are making it very moist and humid under the mask. Further, there's the friction of the mask rubbing against your skin. You can also get acne from the material rubbing against your skin and physically blocking your pores. This is called acne mechanica. N95+ masks are a lot harsher since they fit much more tightly against your skin. This means you can end up with hives and pressure sores, raw skin, and blisters. Different components of the mask, like adhesives, rubber straps, and even free formaldehyde from N95 respirators, all these components cause irritant and allergic reactions. This means redness, inflamed skin, itching, and rashes. So here’s some advice for what to do when you’re wearing the mask.
Wearing a Mask
Firstly, it’s a good idea to avoid heavy makeup and foundation under the mask. The extra pressure and friction from the mask can mean that you get spots and acne. Instead, you can use moisturizer creams under the mask especially on the spots where the mask rubs and causes pressure. This is generally on your nose, the sides of your face and under your chin. If you’re a health care worker, it is recommended to apply a thin layer of skin barrier creams or ointment behind the ears and the areas where the mask tends to rub such as the nose, the sides of your face, and under the chin. You can also apply protective dressings, e.g. hydrocolloid dressing if there are sores or open wounds. Various dermatologists recommend removing pressure from the mask every 1 to 2 hours where possible.
Here are some products that might be useful in a skincare routine if your skin’s been irritated by maks. It’s a good idea to use a mild soap-free cleanser or makeup remover wipes right after you’ve taken off the mask. Use luke-warm water with a foaming gel cleanser but no hot or cold water since that can cause irritations. You should also pat your face dry with a towel rather than rubbing. If you do develop acne some good anti-acne ingredients are benzoic acid, salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and sulfur. If your skin is easily irritated by any of these ingredients, use makeup remover wipes to wipe after wearing it for 20 to 30 minutes, this is called short contact. This can help reduce irritation and dryness. In terms of moisturizers, use ceramides (essential in maintaining skin barrier), glycerin and hyaluronic acid (naturally draw moisture into the skin, increasing hydration) and niacinamide (antioxidant, eases redness and soothes irritated skin). These are all gentle on your skin and help barrier repair. Another problem that can develop after a while is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. These are patches of brown pigment that develop after your skin’s healed, and this topic will be covered on a separate blog. But some products that help against hyperpigmentation can be found here.
Remember that the front of your mask gets contaminated after you’ve worn it. So don’t touch it. If you are planning to reuse a mask, you can store it in a Tupperware container or ziplock bags. You can also sterilize the front of the mask by spraying it with rubbing alcohol. It is also a good idea to wash your hands before and after you put on a mask.
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