The COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has changed many aspects of life, from the way people conduct business to the way people conduct themselves in public. Currently, medical experts generally agree that wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, face shields, gloves, and more, can greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. As such, many regions recommend or require that citizens wear a mask when in public, especially indoors and in crowded areas.
Unfortunately, wearing a mask (or gloves and other PPE) for prolonged periods of time can irritate some people’s skin, especially if they have sensitive skin and/or some allergy to the material making contact. If the issue is severe enough, doctors might recommend that these individuals limit how often they wear these items or find alternatives. But in some cases, failing to wear PPE can be problematic, and the best course of action is to simply take good care of your skin to reduce irritation.
With that in mind, let’s go over some of the skin conditions that may result from wearing masks, gloves, and other PPE and how to lessen the resulting irritation.
Masks may disagree considerably with those who have acne-prone skin -- some have even coined the term “maskne” to describe this phenomenon. Acne flare-ups can be triggered by friction, irritation, and/or occlusion (clogging of pores). All of these events can be easily caused by mask-wearing. If a mask if even a tad too lose, it can rub against the skin (friction); if it’s too thick or made of certain materials, it can absorb the skin’s natural oils and cause irritation; and if it’s too tight it can prevent pores from “breathing” and result in clogging. And now, during the summer, the extra heat doesn’t help, either.
In most cases, limiting mask use (if possible) and applying moisturizing cleansers regularly are the best ways to reduce these types of acne breakouts. But if your acne persists and/or worsens as a result of wearing a mask, see a dermatologist, as a more aggressive approach may be required.
Those with sensitive skin and who must wear a mask, gloves, etc. often may begin to notice changes in their skin’s pigmentation in the relevant areas (i.e. face, behind ears, hands). Pigmentation changes can result from excessively dry skin, frequent friction, and may also appear as rashes resolve. Fortunately, these changes are not permanent, but they can remain while the irritation continues to take place. Applying strong moisturizers like Vaseline to these areas can speed up the pigment-normalization process.
Regular PPE-wearing can also lead to various types of skin rash. Face masks, for instance, can lead to itchy rashes known as contact irritant dermatitis, which refers to a non-allergic, friction-induced reaction. As the mask continuously rubs against your face, the material can damage the skin’s outer layer and result in an itchy rash. Topical steroids such as 1% hydrocortisone, along with gentle cleansers and heavy moisturizers can mitigate this irritation.
Of course, rashes can form in other ways, too. Wearing gloves, for instance, can result in inflamed, itchy hands as sweat gets trapped between the skin and the glove’s interior. You might also develop rashes from washing their hands excessively after wearing gloves. Dermatologists recommend applying moisturizing creams or lotions to your hands after removing gloves. If the rash is severely itchy, they might suggest using over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream as recommended.
Friction isn’t the only factor that leads to rashes -- allergic responses can inflame the skin as well. These rashes are known as hives, and those who are allergic to materials found commonly in PPE (such as latex, rubber, vinyl, nickel etc.) can suffer greatly from even minor exposure to these components. A minor allergy rash can typically be treated by taking an oral antihistamine. But new onset hives and more severe reactions may require a heavier dose of antihistamines along with topical medications and other treatments. You may also have to find PPE made of materials to which your skin is not allergic.
The friction from mask-wearing can also create sores in certain areas, namely on your nose and behind your ears wear the mask makes the tightest, most direct contact with your skin. You can minimize this irritation by applying a protective, hydrating skin patch/dressing like DuoDerm to those vulnerable areas. Applying certain barrier creams containing silicone or zinc oxide can help as well.
As important as it may be to wear masks, gloves, and other PPE during this pandemic, you must do so in a way that keeps your skin healthy, too. Ultimately, you want to keep your PPE and skin clean, ensure that all your PPE properly fits, and take action to heal and restore your skin when it becomes irritated, damaged, and/or inflamed. If you have concerns regarding this topic, the experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can help you find ways to avoid and lessen irritation from wearing PPE. It is our mission to keep you safe before, during, and after your consultation -- read our important message on COVID-19 to find out more about our efforts.
And to learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.