Prolonged mask wearing is a current necessity to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, it can lead to skin problems, both in those with pre-existing skin conditions, and in those with previous trouble-free skin. This is because masks impose heat, friction and occlusion on the skin which combines  the effects of a moist environment from breathing, talking and sweating. Rashes, acne and itching can result, especially on the nasal bridge, chin or cheeks.  The term “maskne” implies acne caused by the mask trapping dirt and oil in the pores.

Those with a history of acne, rosacea, eczema or contact dermatitis may well have their condition worsened by prolonged mask wearing. In addition, some people may develop irritation or chafing from the mask’s elastic bands. Tight-fitting N95 masks worn by health care workers can cause pressure and skin tissue damage.

Management of mask-induced skin complications?

  • First of all the quality and fit of the mask should be considered to prevent skin damage. The mask should be snug so as not to slip off the nose and should stay in place over the chin whilst talking, but it should not be too tight. A good fit will reduce constant fiddling and infection risk.
  • The inner later of the mask should ideally be cotton and not a synthetic material. The ear bands should not be too tight and ideally adjustable.
  • A good idea is also to take a 5-minute mask break every hour or so if possible, in a safe place.
  • Keeping the mask clean and washed daily will also help to keep the skin healthy.
  • As far as skin care goes, keeping the skin clean and well moisturized is important. Before and after wearing the mask, it is recommended to cleanse the face with a mild cleanser to remove dirt and bacteria.
  • Then apply a gentle, fragrance-free non-comedogenic (non-clogging) moisturizer- keeping the skin barrier intact will help prevent mask-irritation. Such bland, soothing fragrance-free moisturizers are widely available over the counter.
  • Before putting on the mask, don’t use a moisturizer that is too oily or sticky as it will interfere with the masks fit.
  • Avoid wearing make-up under the mask if possible.
  • If irritation or skin breakage do occur, products containing zinc oxide and products containing petrolatum will help soothe the areas.
  • For more moderate to severe exacerbations, prescription medicines may be needed, such as topical retinoids for acne, and topical steroids for eczema and topical antibiotics for rosacea.