How to prevent and treat dermatitis, acne and other skin conditions induced by face coverings.
Masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future to protect us and others from COVID-19 – but how do you protect your skin against wearing a mask? While necessary, constantly covering our faces is leading to a rise in “maskne” or acne breakouts. Masks can also exacerbate already existing skin problems like dermatitis (irritated skin), eczema and rosacea, notes White Plains Hospital dermatologist Dr. Athena Kaporis, who sees patients at Westchester Dermatology and Mohs Surgery in Mount Kisco.
“It’s important to remember that these conditions, while bothersome, are preventable and treatable, and should not dissuade you from continuing to wear your mask in public,” notes Dr. Kaporis. “We must all stay vigilant and safe to keep COVID-19 on the decline.”
Know the Symptoms of Mask Dermatitis
According to Dr. Kaporis: “The chronic friction of wearing a mask obstructs the skin, trapping sweat, bacteria and dead skin cells which can all act as irritants.” Learn to spot the following symptoms, particularly on the bridge of your nose, cheeks and chin area, where the masks apply the most pressure:
- Burning or stinging
- Chapped skin
- Red, scaly eczema patches
- Acne-like bumps
Treat Mask Dermatitis
The best way to reduce inflammation is to keep the skin moist, preserving the protective oils on the surface of your skin, says Dr. Kaporis. She advises washing your face with a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil Gentle Foaming Facial Cleanser followed by a hydrating moisturizer. If your skin is very dry, apply a barrier cream, such as Aquaphor. A dermatologist can also prescribe corticosteroids to help reduce symptoms and flare-ups. Consider using a soothing cleansing cloth during the work day if relief is needed from mask discomfort.
Use an Ounce of Prevention
When you need to wear a mask in public, make sure you select the best mask for you: one that is comfortable, breathable, and fits your face. For most people in general good health, N95 respirators are not necessary (and not very comfortable) and best reserved for healthcare workers who really need them.
Surgical masks – the rectangular disposable type – are a popular option, but may not be ideal for those with sensitive skin, as they are made of polypropylene, a type of plastic. Some research has shown that polypropylene masks can cause skin irritation.
“Consider switching to a soft fabric mask with at least two layers (but more is better), in a natural cotton if possible for maximum breathability,” says Dr. Kaporis. “They are not only reusable and earth friendly, but comfortable.”
A study has shown that natural fibers like cotton (especially when layered) filter out potentially virus containing respiratory particles better than many synthetic fabrics. Wash your cloth mask frequently to eliminate oils and debris from the mask – and consider skipping the fabric softener so you don’t breathe in the chemicals all day.
Treat Mask Acne
To minimize acne breakouts, specifically caused by clogged pores due to mask-wearing, follow these steps:
- Wash your face with a cleanser with salicylic acid such as CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
- Apply acne medication such as Differin gel .1% in combination with a moisturizer to prevent irritation
- When starting acne medication, always apply sparingly and use every other evening. Increase to every evening if well tolerated.
If your acne persists, contact your dermatologist for prescription medication. They can help you get to the bottom of your sensitive skin problems and suggest products to minimize irritation.
Dr. Athena Kaporis is a board-certified dermatologist with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates, seeing patients at Westchester Dermatology and Mohs Surgery in Mount Kisco. To make an appointment, please call 914-242-2020.