Is your face mask causing skin rashes or acne? Here’s some advice. – NJ.com

By | May 30, 2020

There seems to be overwhelming agreement that those face masks that have become part of our social wardrobe in these days of the coronavirus are prescribed with safety, not style, in mind.

Bad enough that these bands of fabric are hiding all those warm smiles, noble chins and kickin’ quarantine mustaches out there.

But these masks also are creating a variety of skin ailments — rashes, acne, flaking and even bruising and abrasions from tight and sustained pressure — that may have folks simultaneously cursing the things and making them sort of glad to be partially hidden behind one.

Dermatologists all over the Garden State feel and see your pain and offer up some useful advice that can help us all save face as we approach a summer where face coverings will likely still be required when gathering in public.

Briefly put: Be diligent but gentle, choose a breathable fabric, save the makeup for another time and avoid stress as much as possible. These are central to the general playbook of the professionals. And if a problem should persist, well, consult the help of an expert.

“To be honest, any dermatologist would say see a dermatologist. Acne has become a side effect of the corona, and now people are using all types of crazy things to try to make it better,” said Dr. Alissa Fox of Fox Skin and Allergy Associates in Branchburg.

“What’s happening now,” she said, “is that people are doing all kinds of home remedies and they’re scrubbing their faces raw. That doesn’t make anything better; it makes it worse.”

That is also the sentiment of Radhika Patel, a dermatology nurse practitioner at Wise Center for Plastic Surgery in Wayne.

“It’s super common, and they shouldn’t do that,” Patel said of the impulse for sufferers to try to scrub away their issue.

“Make sure you’re cleansing your face at least twice a day, but be gentle,” she said. “I like a good, gentle cleanser that isn’t too strong or stringent. If the product says ‘gentle’ or ‘hydrating,’ those are good for times like this. And if someone already has acne or is beginning to, they should look for salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.”

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Dermatologists say the frequent and prolonged wearing of face masks can cause a variety of skins ailments. This is a photo of healthcare workers at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark.Andrew Mills | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Are we speaking of mainly teenagers on this front?

“No, I’ve had patients in my 40s who are saying, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be getting acne anymore, I’m not a teenager.’ But because of the mask, they’re starting to see breakouts.”

It is an unfortunate product of a face’s suddenly confined environment.

“People are sweating more, they’re scrubbing too much and then there is just the whole stress of the situation that kind of activates the acne, too,” Fox said. “It’s a combination of things.”

And if sweat is one of the culprits, will these advancing summer months wreak all the more havoc on our chins and noses?

“It’s kind of a double-edged thing,” Fox said. “Once the heat and humidity gets up, that can clog the pores, which is a problem. In general, though, acne gets a little better for people in the summer just because they’re not in school and there’s less stress.

“The winter time, in general, just tends to be more stressful with school and everything. Not enough sleep at night also has a lot to do with it,” she said.

Many people are able limit their time under a mask right now with school and much of the business world still largely operating remotely. Wearing one in public continues to be often a matter of choice.

But there are, of course, our brave frontline folks and other essential workers who have no alternative but to be masked for extended periods and under the most stressful conditions. For the emergency and healthcare personnel, that means medical-grade N95 masks that must fit snugly in order to be effective.

At the least, the friction caused by the material rubbing against sweaty skin can cause a very stubborn case of redness. That can also form pressure ulcers that become bad enough to lead to bruising or even infection.

A thin layer of ointment, such as zinc oxide, can form a welcome barrier between skin and fabric. But can that become troublesome for people already afflicted with acne?

“Sometimes,” Patel said, “but you kind of have to weigh the risk-to-benefits there. Usually zinc is fine even if you have acne. But if that’s not the case, you can use something like Aquaphor (Healing Ointment). That doesn’t cause acne or create any issues.”

Dr. Jeffrey Wise, for whom Patel works, has a more technologically advanced remedy for healthcare workers who are experiencing mask-related redness that will not subside. He is offering a complimentary VBeam laser treatment for all essential-care workers.

This is not the first act of COVID-19-related benevolence by Wise. When non-essential businesses like his were ordered closed two months ago, he donated a good deal of his personal protective equipment (PPE) to nearby hospitals while also offering his expert wound-stitching services to people in need to alleviate congestion in overloaded emergency rooms.

For those not forced by trade to wear N95 masks, Patel suggests wearing masks that are breathable and also easy to care for.

“I’ve been telling patients to get a mask made of cotton,” she said. “Masks that are polyester, nylon, like that are made to wick away sweat. But essentially that’s not going to be very breathable. The sweat will sort of sit there.”

Patel also strongly recommends against the wearing of makeup beneath the mask. If you must, though, “Wash your face immediately after taking the mask off. And if you’re working outside (where the collection of dirt mixed with sweat becomes prevalent), again, wash your face after taking the mask off,” she said.

And when it comes to washing the mask itself?

“You want to wash the mask every night, and you’ll want to use a gentle cleanser,” Patel said. “Anything that says ‘free and clear, gentle and free,’ anything like that; it won’t have as many fragrances and allergens in it, so it will reduce any irritation that you can have from a detergent.”

Farmer’s tan. Golfer’s tan. Phrases coined long ago at beaches, lakes and pool sides refer to clearly defined and often comical demarcation lines between sun-darkened and rarely exposed body parts revealed all at once.

What then of face mask tans or coronavirus tans?

“My dream, ideal life is that all of my patients are wearing their sunscreen consistently every two hours. And by doing that, they shouldn’t be getting any tan lines, anyway,” Patel said. “Using a good mineral sunscreen that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in it and reapplying every two hours is going to stop that. And wear a hat to protect the top of your head.”

That is a whole lot of preparation and time dedicated to something that is annoyingly restrictive and not all that glamorous to start with. And that does not account for whatever problems may now lie beneath that covering.

Still, Patel warns us not to let down our guard by peeling off the mask when we are within close proximity of others.

“A little bit of acne that will go away once you stop wearing the mask is way less invasive than having to go through what coronavirus can do if that were to happen,” he said.

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Mike Kinney may be reached at mkinney@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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