For those who are not as familiar with COVID-19, it is a specific strain of a coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Further, it is a virus that originated in Wuhan, a city within China’s Hubei province, and then made its way into Southeast Asia before moving into Europe and, ultimately, the United States. To date, there are almost 21.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. What’s more, this same virus, which causes severe respiratory problems within 14 days of exposure, has claimed the lives of over 361,000 people. While these statistics are unsettling, there is some good news insomuch that 3.5 million people who contracted COVID-19 have recovered. Further, BNT162b2, a COVID vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 11, 2020.
However, because the vaccine will not be available to the general public until possibly the spring or summer of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the continued wearing of face masks to keep the virus from spreading any further than it has already. Most will agree that this is sound advice; however, skin issues caused by facemasks have become par for the course for many Americans who wear them to reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
What Kind of Skin Problems Are Caused by Wearing a Face Mask?
According to an article published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, an integrated global health enterprise headquartered in Baltimore, MD, many individuals who wear a face mask to protect themselves against COVID are developing “maskne.” For those not familiar with maskne, it is a skin condition that stems from wearing a face mask for an extended amount of time. The condition causes rashes and, in many cases, acne-like breakouts around the mouth and chin. In nearly all cases, the materials used in the manufacturing of specific types of masks are responsible for causing this skin phenomenon.
According to Anna Chien, a board-certified dermatologist with the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology, many face masks sold to consumers are disinfected with formaldehyde before they make it on to store shelves. This chemical causes the skin to become irritated and is usually responsible for maskne. Chien also noted that individuals with sensitive skin are more likely to develop this condition. Further, it is not uncommon for existing skin problems, such as rosacea, eczema or perioral dermatitis, to worsen due to maskne, says Dr. Chien.
Overcoming Skin Issues Caused by Face Masks
Given the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., not to mention the associated death rate, most will agree that wearing a face mask is a must. Fortunately, there are options for those who have concerns about developing maskne and are even more concerned about being exposed to COVID, including:
Homemade face mask – Wearing a homemade mask can minimize the risk of skin irritation while simultaneously helping to protect against exposure to COVID. Generally speaking, face masks made from a clean, old T-shirt either do not cause or cause very little skin irritation compared to their commercial counterparts.
Wearing a clean mask – Making it a point to wash your face mask after each use will ensure it doesn’t contain contaminants that could irritate the skin. While we are on the topic, skin issues caused by facemasks washed with scented detergents can often include red, irritated skin. And this is especially the case for those with sensitive skin. For this reason, most dermatologists will advise using a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free detergent when washing a face mask.
Wearing a mask that fits – An ill-fitting mask can pose two problems. If it is too tight, it can cause chafing, which, in turn, causes redness and irritation. On the other hand, if it is too loose, it does not provide nearly enough protection against COVID-19.
Practicing good skincare habits – Washing your face before going to bed can prevent clogged pores that might otherwise lead to acne. It may also be a good idea to apply a thin layer of barrier cream to your facial skin, which will keep it hydrated while providing some protection against irritants that can cause or worsen symptoms of maskne.
In summary, COVID-19 has changed many things in our day-to-day lives, including making it a point to wear a face mask whenever we are out in public. However, if we all do our part, it can significantly slow the spread of COVID. And following the tips detailed in this article means you can do so without sacrificing too much of your skin’s appearance.