August 25, 2020

Does your mask irritate your face? Doctors offer ideas to keep your skin healthy.

Protect your skin while you’re protecting your friends

Flat cartoon avatars collection of people wearing medical face masks to prevent viruses, disease, flu, gas. Isolated on white background. Clipping paths included. (Flat cartoon avatars collection of people wearing medical face masks to prevent viruses

Face masks protect others, protect the wearer, and can prevent the spread of disease, including COVID-19.

Some people, though, experience some skin irritation associated with wearing a mask.

“The most common skin symptom I have seen from mask wearing is breaking out with pimples or worsening underlying acne,” said John Zic, MD, professor of Dermatology.

Lori Rolando, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine and director of the Occupational Health Clinic, noted that masks can also cause dermatitis which can manifest more commonly as dryness, scaling, itching, stinging, burning, or redness.

For most of these issues, some simple steps can help prevent the problems, Zic and Rolando said.

Among the tips the doctors recommend:

  • Washing the face with a skin cleanser containing salicylic acid at bedtime
  • Keeping your mask clean
  • Ensuring that your mask fits properly over your mouth and nose and isn’t too tight or too loose
  • Avoiding makeup when wearing a mask
  • Using a gentle moisturizer

If, even after following these steps, under mask skin issues develop, over-the-counter acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or adapalene may be helpful when applied thinly to the face in the morning.

Also, substituting a different type of surgical mask or even wearing a cloth mask under a surgical mask may help.

In the case of prolonged serious skin problems or a severe allergic reaction, medical intervention needs to happen.

“If multiple pus bumps or deeper knots in the skin develop then I would seek the advice of a primary care provider or dermatologist,” Zic said. “Also, if an itchy or painful rash or water blisters develop on the skin under a mask I would seek the care of a primary care provider or dermatologist.”

“Signs of a broader allergic reaction, such as broader rash/hives or all-over itching, swelling of lips or tongue, or  throat tightness/shortness of breath/difficulty breathing should always be evaluated emergently,” Rolando added.

If an employee has a reaction to a mask or other personal protective equipment worn at work, it’s important that Occupational Health be contacted, Rolando said.

“Occupational Health can provide guidance and recommendations specific to the particular situation at hand, and in cases of severe or persistent symptoms can facilitate referral to Dermatology or other appropriate specialists within the context of workers’ compensation processes if appropriate,” she said.

In the case of an on-the-job reaction, an employee should fill out a “First report of work injury” within VUMC’s Veritas reporting system.

Also, the mask should be kept, put in a brown paper bag, and Vanderbilt Health Supply Chain Solutions should be contacted at 615-969-1383.

For more tips about the best way to wear a mask, go here and here

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