Covid-19 Story Tip: Johns Hopkins Expert Discusses Best Practices to Combat Mask Irritation

12/29/2020

Wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic has played a pivotal role in stopping the spread of the virus. While masks protect us from becoming infected and spreading the virus, they have also caused some unpleasant and annoying consequences for our skin.

Many people have developed facial acne, rosacea and other skin irritation resulting from face coverings, such as masks and shields. Anna Chien, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is among the many clinicians who have been dealing with this condition.

Chien says that many factors can contribute to these breakouts, including age; the length of time a mask is worn; the fit of the covering; allergic reactions to the materials or chemicals making up the mask; and the overall condition of one’s skin.

“Age can potentially play a role, since our skin barriers aren’t quite as good as we age,” says Chien. “However, it really has more to do with how long someone wears a mask — especially in work or other activities where it’s needed for long periods — as well as an individuals’ propensity for skin conditions. Some people may just naturally have more sensitive skin and or skin prone to acne.”

As for the clinical signs of skin inflammation caused by masks, Chien says they can include red bumps, pimples, red rashes, irritation or chafing. “You may even experience scaly and itchy skin,” she adds.

To protect your skin from masks, Chien suggests:

· Try to take mask breaks, if possible. Time is a big factor in minimizing skin irritation.

· Make sure your mask fits properly. “It should be comfortable around your nose and ears because those are the areas where we see the most chaffing,” Chien explains.

· Choose a mask that works best with your skin. If work regulations and other requirements permit you to have a choice of masks, Chien says that cotton and polyester blends are best for people with more sensitive skin.

· For mild cases, implement a good, gentle skin care regimen. Mild soaps without any fragrances or antibacterial chemicals are best. Stick to a very bland moisturizer at night.

· Barrier creams, such as petroleum jelly and even baby rash ointments, can help prevent sores and skin irritations. Ask your doctor about topical and oral medications, if over-the-counter treatments aren’t working.

Chien is available for interviews.