TORONTO — Masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are causing skin problems for health-care workers, which may suggest problems ahead for the population at large.
In China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, nearly all surveyed doctors and nurses reported that they had suffered some sort of skin damage in the early months of the pandemic.
According to a research letter published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in March, 526 of the 542 frontline health-care workers surveyed reported that measures taken to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus had left them with dermatological damage.
The most common effects were seen around the nasal bridge, hands, cheek and forehead, and workers who regularly wore goggles or N95 masks for more than six hours at a time reported more damage than those who did not.
But it isn’t only health-care workers who can develop these problems, because it isn’t only health-care workers who are spending more time wearing masks and other forms of PPE.
“A lot of people are wearing masks, so they’re having issues with reactions to the mask,” Dr. Lisa Kellett, a dermatologist at DLK on Avenue in Toronto, told CTVNews.ca Tuesday via telephone.
Those reactions can come from one of three different causes, Kellett said: the friction created by the mask rubbing on the face, a material in the mask acting as an irritant, or an allergy to a material in the mask. Existing skin conditions can also be aggravated by these factors.
“Things like acne can be made worse with the mask. Psoriasis can be made worse. Skin eczema or dermatitis can be made worse, and (so can) rosacea,” she said.
“Maskne” has been coined as the term referring to facial marks caused by regular mask-wearing. Korean beauty brands Peach & Lily and Dr. Jart have launched “Maskne Essentials” product lines to help address the acne, peeling skin and rashes that can result from regular mask-wearing.
The American Association of Dermatologists (AAD) offers advice for anyone looking to counteract the facial effects of wearing a mask. Their preventative tips include using a moisturizer immediately before putting the mask on and after taking it off, washing the face daily and applying moisturizer immediately afterward, skipping makeup and taking a 15-minute break from the mask every four hours.
Kellett said it is also important to wash masks – ideally with a hypoallergenic detergent and by hand, not in a washing machine.
Those who find their face being damaged by friction related to the mask should consider applying a barrier cream or zinc oxide before putting the mask on, she said.
Should some form of maskne develop, the AAD recommends a number of steps depending on the exact symptoms – but stresses that acne and rashes are not good reasons to stop wearing masks when out in public.
Kellett said zinc oxide can be applied to marks on the face to “calm things down,” and more severe issues may warrant a prescription for a topical steroid. Before it gets to that point, though, she recommends a much simpler solution.
“The first thing is to wash with just a mild soap, nothing too irritating – and make sure that the water is not too warm,” she said.