ATTENTION ALL ESSENTIAL WORKERS AND RUNNERS! Yes, this is for both of you and really anyone that is required or recommended to wear a face mask. If you haven’t noticed that your skin has already taken a beating, that’s great, keep doing what you are doing, but most of us, will be seeing some side effects of the mask. This is the blog for you!

Ok so why does wearing a mask cause problems with your skin? Well, let’s think about it. You are wearing something either cloth or a surgical mask or respirator around your face covering your mouth and nose. You breathe in and out and that warm, moist air just sits in between that mask and your skin. That air is also full of bacteria because…well your mouth and nose are full of bacteria. In addition to all this, the cloth can rub and irritate your skin and the detergent used to clean that cloth can cause irritation. The medical respirators are made to fit tightly around your nose and mouth and create a tight seal and this can cause pressure and marks on the skin. Over time, it can even cause breakdown of the skin especially over the nose. Besides the lower eyelids, the skin over the bridge of the nose is one of the thinnest on your body. Also imagine a runner, wearing a bandanna or cloth mask around their nose and mouth as they are running with heavier and deeper breaths. I can tell you, I did this for the first time this week and it’s far from pleasant. It’s almost suffocating.

We’ve been wearing masks for eternity but why all the fuss now. While, yes, surgeons have been wearing them for decades, as have nurses or other healthcare professionals when they care for high risk patients or perform procedures. Other industries use them as well. What’s different now is the length of time they are used and more and more people have to wear respirators rather than surgical masks to get adequate airborne pathogen protection. Prior to COVID19, respirators were only worn in very limited circumstances such as taking care of patients with TB. You also don’t have breaks like you did when you can let your skin breathe. You go home and also have to wear masks socially. Just by shear nature of the length of time these masks need to be worn introduces a whole new set of issues.

There are several skin problems that might arise from all of this. You may notice skin breakdown especially over the nose. There might be more breakouts and acne as those pores become clogged with oils and bacteria. Your skin may even become dry and start to peel. Here are a few suggestions and tricks that can help keep your skin calm.

  • Cleanse: The most important thing you can do is to keep your skin as clean as possible. While there isn’t much you can do during the day while you are wearing the mask, your skin should be cleansed as soon as you are able to remove it or immediately after going home. Avoid regular soaps as these are harsh and can strip the skin of its natural oils. Instead, use a facial cleanser that is gentle on your skin. Cetaphil is a great option if you are looking for store bought. Otherwise, try a medical grade cleanser, such as, ZO Skin Health. Just remember that this doesn’t replace your normal morning and night washes.
  • Exfoliate: A gentle exfoliation will help remove those damaged outer layers of skin and can help remove excess dirt, debris, and oils from the day.
  • Tone: My favorite. Use a toning facial pad that has salicylic or glycolic acid. The rubbing action mechanically gives you a deep clean and exfoliation but the acids can help with breakouts.
  • Moisturize: It’s important to watch your skin and see how it is reacting. If you are extremely oily, your skin is producing enough of its own “moisturizer” and you can maybe skip this. Most of us, will notice that our skin is especially dry since we are cleansing more. Use a moisturizer to help hydrate without clogging our pores.
  • Skin breakdown: While it’s important to not have ointments or other thick skin barriers between your skin and N95 mask because it may decrease the seal and effectiveness, these areas can be treated while at home. Ointments such as Vaseline or an antibiotic ointment can help soothe this area and allow for healing. Aloe Vera is a great option too.
  • Breakouts: The salicylic acid pads are key! You can also spot treat acne with zinc or sulfur treatments. Again, cleansing and using a cleansing brush, such as, a Clarisonic can be crucial in decreasing oils and acne.

These are few tips and tricks to help with that face mask skin. Of course, always feel free to consult with your dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Most of us are offering complimentary cosmetic consultations so let us know how we can help you!! In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home. xo