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What To Do About Skin Problems Caused By Face Masks

Wearing a mask to help protect against COVID-19 is the right thing to do, for yourself and for those around you. But wearing a mask also can sometimes be a pain -- literally.

More than one-third of frontline health care workers reported adverse skin reactions after wearing N95 masks daily for several months, according to a story referenced in the May 2020 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The highest incidence of conditions included acne, facial itch and rash.

Here are problems often experienced by people who wear masks, and what to do about them, courtesy of the UH Department of Dermatology.

Acne

Frictional acne can occur from contact with the mask or from humidity. Changing the mask type may help to move the contact point or reduce the humidity. An over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide wash or cream also may help.

Wipe the affected area with a gentle cleansing wipe immediately after removing the mask and reapply moisturizer if your skin is dry. Prescription acne products may be necessary.

If you already have a prescription for acne, a change in your prescription and skin regimen may be necessary. Some products may become quite irritating under a mask.

Soreness or Rash Behind the Ears

Use a string-tie mask that doesn't loop behind the ears. Or use a clip that connects the ear loops behind the head instead of behind the ears.

Try a mask with ear loops that fit more loosely -- but the mask should still be snug around the edges on the nose, cheeks and chin. Alternate mask types day to day or within the day.

Red Rash

If you have a red sore rash where your mask has contact with your face, keep in mind that almost all mask reactions are irritation from friction rather than an allergic reaction to the mask materials.

Don't make the irritation worse with over-washing. Use water and washcloth alone, or at most use a very gentle skin cleanser.

Wash your cloth mask regularly. Make sure you rinse well to get all the soap or detergent out. Some skin products, like those for anti-aging, condition treatment or fragrance, can become irritating in combination with a mask.

Rosacea

The heat under a mask may cause the skin capillaries to dilate, which may worsen the rosacea. Change to a cooler-feeling mask if possible and reduce other facial skin heating exposures, such as hot liquids, alcohol and spicy foods. You may need prescription products.

Beard Stubble Discomfort Issues

Late-day stubble can get caught repeatedly in the fabric, especially certain isolation/surgical masks. Change your mask type if possible -- a very smooth fabric with a higher thread count may catch less on stubble.

Add a midday shave to stay smooth. Or consider growing a beard if you're not wearing an N95 mask.

Additional Advice

Some problems are caused by the type of mask you are wearing. N95 masks, for example, cause the most skin breakdowns because they fit tightly. They should be worn for the shortest interval possible. Do not apply any barrier products to the skin before donning an N95 mask, as they can interfere with the seal.

With isolation/surgical or cloth masks, reduce skin irritation by applying powder where the mask touches the skin. If you tend to have dry skin, apply a moisturizing cream immediately after taking off the mask for the day. If you have a flare of red irritated skin, short-term use of a moisturizer after taking off the masks may be helpful.

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