Masks are causing skin irritation, but experts say there are ways to ease the pain

Posted at 7:09 AM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 08:09:13-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — By now you've probably seen the photos of health care workers with irritated or bruised skin caused by their personal protective equipment. People who are not in the medical field are now noticing the same issues because more places are requiring masks.

"The skin tends to react to anything that disrupts its homeostasis or normal rhythm, where we're making moisture all the time and the skin is balancing it's own environment," said dermatologist Dr. Bill Stebbins, director of cosmetic dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Whether it's an N95 mask or a homemade one, any PPE can cause skin irritation, according to Dr. Stebbins.

"The two things that contribute to mask irritation would be pressure and occlusion over the skin that creates a humid environment," he said.

You can prep your face before you put on a mask to lower your risk.

Begin by washing your face with lukewarm rather than hot water, which can be abrasive and further compromise the skin. Then, about 45 minutes before you put on a mask use a mild moisturizer that does not clog your pores.

If your skin does become red or stings, apply Vaseline or Aquaphor before bed or use a liquid skin barrier or wipe.

Dr. Stebbins said people are experiencing irritation on the bridge of the nose and behind the ears.

"There is such thin skin [on the nose] and bone underneath, and so using these skin protectants or barrier wipes to minimize that micro-trauma over and over and over throughout the day can help to minimize irritation," he said.

People with preexisting skin issues like acne, rosacea and perioral dermatitis should consult their dermatologist if their condition worsens because they are wearing a mask.