During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, people are being advised to wear facemasks to protect themselves and others when they need to go out. But for those with sensitive skin, wearing a facemask can be irritating. Even medical professionals who previously wore masks for only part of the day are now finding themselves with irritation, sores, and other skin concerns due to longer wear times. At U.S. Dermatology Partners, we’re all too familiar with the skin health issues that can arise from daily, prolonged facemask wear. If you’re experiencing skin irritation after wearing your facemask, keep reading this blog to learn more about how to prevent and treat these issues.
When to Wear Facemasks
Perhaps the most important factor to consider is when you should be wearing a facemask. You have likely heard a lot of mixed messages about whether or not to wear a mask. Wearing facemasks protects you from exposure, and they protect other people if you are unknowingly a carrier. It’s an easy way to significantly reduce your risk for exposure. However, it’s important to remember that wearing facemasks does not make you invincible or give you the ability to go back to your normal daily routine. Social distancing and sheltering-in-place are still important. Facemasks are an added layer of safety and protection. Facemasks aren’t appropriate for anyone who cannot put them on and take them off without assistance. This includes young children, those who are very ill, and those who are sleeping.
You should be wearing facemasks in the following situations:
- When caring for individuals who are sick
- When in public, especially in medical settings where there are individuals who may have been sick and those with compromised immune systems who are at higher risk
- If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing early warning signs of the disease
Choosing a Facemask
Because medical-grade facemasks are in such limited supply, it’s recommended that those outside of the healthcare industry use fabric facemasks that can be made at home using simple materials, but you need to select the right fabrics. Traditional, disposable facemasks are designed to protect from the spread of bacteria, which are actually much larger in size than viruses. To ensure optimal safety when wearing a facemask, you need to choose a material that can effectively block the virus and offer a comfortable fit for improved compliance (in other words, something you’ll actually wear). Many studies have been done over the years to determine the best materials to protect against more common viruses like influenza (the flu). Research findings indicate that a simple cotton and polyester blend (like most t-shirts or pillowcases) is effective in preventing the spread of viruses, and the material is still breathable. A facemask made from a cotton and polyester blend material will block about 70% of viruses, which makes them well-suited for minimal risk situations while practicing social distancing.
How to Put on & Take Off a Facemask
In order to reap the benefits of wearing a facemask, you need to make sure you’re putting it on and taking it off properly. You can follow the steps below to maximize the effectiveness of wearing a facemask:
- Before placing the facemask, carefully wash your hands with soap and water or use a 70% alcohol hand sanitizer.
- Place the mask over your nose and mouth taking care to ensure there is no space between your face and the cloth.
- Do not touch the mask when you’re wearing it, and if you do touch the mask, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.
- Replace your mask regularly to ensure efficacy. If the mask feels damp, has a strange smell, or it has been worn more than once, it needs to be cleaned before it’s re-worn.
- Remove your mask from the back and place it immediately into a laundry basket or other receptacle.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
Prevention & Treatment of Potential Skin Irritation
Our dermatologists and skincare teams wear facemasks as necessary to protect themselves and their patients while performing certain dermatologic procedures, so we know that it can take time to get used to wearing these masks even for short periods. If you’re working in an essential industry, caring for a sick loved one, or otherwise need to wear your mask for a prolonged time, you are likely noticing irritation on the nose, cheeks, ears, chin, and other parts of the face where the material is rubbing. To ensure minimal risk, it’s important to wear the masks snuggly, but this can increase skin irritation. In addition to friction from the mask rubbing against the skin, humidity from breathing traps moisture against the skin, leading to chafing. To prevent these skin issues and minimize concerns as they do arise, we recommend developing and maintaining an effective morning and evening skincare routine that includes the following steps:
- Wash your face each morning with a gentle cleanser. If you regularly use more astringent facewash with ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or retinoids, for oily or acne-prone skin, you may want to switch to a gentler cleanser if you notice irritation.
- After washing, apply moisturizer, taking special care in areas where the mask has been rubbing. Look for moisturizers that include ingredients like ceramides, squalene, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.
- Before you go to sleep, wash your face using a gentle cleanser.
- Apply a thicker, cream moisturizer to help replenish skin cells and repair damage as you sleep. If you typically apply anti-aging serums or other products at night, you may want to hold off on using these while wearing masks regularly.
If you have questions about which products to use, reach out to your dermatologist for a virtual appointment. We’d be happy to talk to you about the best skincare routine. If you’re noticing chapped or chaffed skin where your mask is rubbing, apply a small amount of petroleum jelly. This will protect your skin and trap in moisture. If you notice sores, hives, or other more serious skin issues after wearing your mask, contact your dermatologist right away.
Chronic Skin Conditions Affected by Wearing a Mask
Even with a good skincare routine in place and taking preventive steps, wearing a mask may lead you to experience a flareup in chronic skin conditions, including acne, atopic dermatitis (eczema), and rosacea. If this occurs, make sure you talk to your dermatologist about how to care for these conditions and avoid unnecessary breakouts and flareups when wearing a mask.
Certain cleansers that are recommended for acne may lead to increased skin irritation and inflammation, so you may want to discuss switching to oral medications or other treatment options to control acne while wearing a facemask regularly. For eczema and rosacea, we will likely need to improve your moisturizing routine and provide other treatments to alleviate symptoms as needed during flareups.
When to See a Dermatologist
In an attempt to prevent unnecessary health risks for our patients, caregivers, clinicians, and communities, the U.S. Dermatology Partners teams are recommending patients schedule online teledermatology visits rather than visiting our office during the COVID-19 pandemic whenever possible. These secure video chat appointments allow our skilled dermatologists to talk one-on-one with patients, answer questions, take a look at skin concerns, and offer treatment recommendations. If you’re experiencing irritation, flareups of chronic conditions, or other basic skin health concerns related to wearing a mask, a teledermatology appointment is a great way to chat with one of us right away without needing to leave home. To get started with a telehealth session, simply complete our online form to request teledermatology. We look forward to hearing from you.
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