The novel Coronavirus has impacted every aspect of our lives. Everything, from the way we interact with each other to our work and social lives, has been upturned. While we are continuing to ease out of the lockdown, we are going to have to make more adjustments with the new order of things. The most important for the foreseeable future is donning a face mask every time we step out along with frequent washing and sanitizing of hands. This makes it important for us to be cognizant about the ensuing effects on our skin.

A host of skin issues—From Acne to Maskne and everything in between

As wearing masks becomes a routine, there are high chances of developing ‘maskne’ – a term that is used to describe acne that is developed in the area a mask covers. Borrowing from the urban dictionary term of ‘backne’ (back acne), maskne is a new term that has been coined for the coronavirus face mask era.

While healthcare and frontline workers are most susceptible to develop maskne, individuals already suffering from acne are also highly at risk. In a paper published by the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, it was reported that 83% of health care workers in China experienced skin problems on the face owing to prolonged mask use.

Skin irritation is another common problem faced by many people. One main reason is the lack of airflow. Additionally, constant rubbing and pressing of the mask causes friction and ends up chafing the skin on the face. Wearing cloth-based masks made from cotton can sometimes absorb even necessary oils and leave your skin feeling dry and itchy.

Another common skin issue that is experienced is dermatitis. In simple terms, it means developing rashes on parts on the skin that comes in contact with the mask. Symptoms can include redness, tenderness, burning or itchy sensations. These can be further triggered by an allergic reaction to the material in the mask.

An extreme reaction to wearing masks can be the onset of eczema. It can be identified by a recurrent itchy skin condition that also causes the skin to flake. In extreme conditions, the affected area can crust over leading to the formation of pus.

While constant sanitising and washing of hands is recommended to curb the spread, it can also lead to dry and cracked skin, and itchiness.

This excessive hand hygiene through frequent disinfection and handwashing procedures may disrupt the epidermal barrier – the outermost layer of your skin. It will also induce changes in skin texture, while removing necessary lipids (fats) from the hand.

Sanitisers are typically made with alcohol – another severely drying agent. With medical experts asking us to constantly sanitise our hands when we come into contact with surfaces and public spaces, constant application of sanitisers also dries out the skin.

What can be done— Tips to care for your skin

With masks not going to come off any time soon, here are a few measures that one can adopt while we continue to adjust to this new order:

  • Adopt a regular skin care routine: Your skin is the first line of defence that prevents the entry of different pathogens. Create a solid skin care routine that includes ingredients which will strengthen and nourish the skin. While picking out products such as moisturisers, sun blocks (in case you have to step out) and cleansers, look for barrier building ingredients such as peptides and ceramides. Along with developing a good routine, ensure to adequately hydrate yourself. Hydration ensures that the outer layer does not crack, which further prevents the entry of pathogens
  • Include a barrier cream to reduce rashes caused by marks: Prevention is better than cure. To minimise the effects of the masks on the skin, one should consider investing in a barrier cream or a salve, that help in reducing the friction and chafing
  • Wear minimal makeup: If you have to absolutely step out, and want to wear makeup, stick to using only a few products. The combination of clogged pores due to makeup along with trapped moisture due to mask use can be a recipe for disaster. Remember to wash off makeup once you are back
  • Follow mask hygiene: An ideal cloth masks contains multiple layers of fabric that will allow for breathing without restriction. It is recommended that you wash your mask after each use and store it in a hygienic place while not in use and folded outside-in
  • Try out pimple patches: If a bump does rear its head, slap on a pimple patch to keep it in check. These patches will contain the spread of bacteria from coming into contact with other parts of your face, thereby controlling or ‘quarantining’ a breakout
  • Wash hands in cold water: While one may think that washing your hands in hot water is a step further in tackling the spread, it can further contribute to dry skin. Always wash your hands in tepid to cold water
  • Mask-up your hands: Remember to wear gloves whenever you sanitise surfaces. Some disinfectants can be really harsh on the skin and further dry it out
  • Moisturise, moisturise: Remember to moisturise your hands after every wash. Considering the number of times one may have to wash their hands, it is recommended that you carry a pocket-sized moisturiser on you at all times
  • Don’t hesitate to fix up dermatological consultations: Despite taking precautionary methods, sometimes you may experience breakouts because of stress. If you notice persistent skin irritation, your best option would be to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. They will be able to diagnose the issue and prescribe skincare plan and medicines to suit your needs

As the world continues to battle this disease, we have to help ourselves by following precautionary methods. Do not give up wearing masks and washing your hands regularly, as they are critical measures in the prevention of spread. In the meantime, taking steps described earlier can help protect your skin from damage. In case you develop a serious skin reaction, do not hesitate to talk to your dermatologist immediately and set up an appointment, as damaged skin may need more than home remedies to be repaired.

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