The Mask Struggle is Real!

Masks are a hot topic right now and many of us are required to wear one at least part of the time. As we all navigate our own experiences with the global pandemic that is the novel coronavirus COVID – 19, we hopefully are taking a moment to reflect on all of our great fortune. We are all tired of the never-ending stream of news media, the feelings of isolation, the constant unknown of what comes next, the disconnection from friends and family as we practice distancing, and the extreme polarization of thoughts and opinions. Y’all, this is hard for all of us. Personally, I am trying to focus inward. I am making myself and my family the main priority and trying to shut out the cacophony of negativity. I am using this time as an opportunity to reflect and be grateful for all of the wonderful people that surround me and I am teaching my children to do the same. I am also trying to address the concerns of my patients, and I’ve noticed, since being back in the office, several concerns that seem to be pretty universal and all are linked to wearing masks.

For some of us masking up is part of our daily routine because we are required to wear them for our respective jobs. It seems that many people who do not wear them on a regular basis have the incorrect perception that we like to wear our masks. We don’t. We hate them just as much as you do…maybe even more because we keep them on for so long. Masks are uncomfortable and make it hard to breathe, but I just keep telling myself that it is for everyone’s protection. Wearing masks for extended periods of time can cause some undesirable side effects. “Maskne” or mask induced acne is the most common complaint I get. Even people who never break out are having small bouts of acne in the areas of the face that their mask is covering. This is often a result of wearing the same mask repeatedly without cleaning or properly storing it.

What do you do with your mask when you take it off? Stick it in your purse? Shove it into a pocket? The best way to preserve the cleanliness of your mask is to store it in a cool dry location. At the office we use paper bags to store our masks as soon as they are removed. There are also small UV sterilizers that you can get on Amazon for about $26.00 that will not only sanitize your masks but your cellphones, glasses, pens, makeup brushes, and any other non-porous object you choose will also be germ free after it’s 10 minute cycle is complete. It is also helpful to have multiple masks on hand for times when you have to take masks off and put them back on repeatedly. Let’s say you have a few errands to run and you stop into the Home Depot first for DIY project supplies, the grocery store next for toilet paper and Lysol, and finally Total Wine for mental health aids. You should have three separate masks. Putting on a clean mask every time is one of the simplest ways to avoid bacterial eruptions in the skin.

Clean skin is another fairly obvious way to avoid breakouts from forming behind the mask. You’re covered…you don’t need the makeup. I love playing with makeup. Its fun and not permanent. I consider makeup an extension of my personality, but I have not worn face makeup at all under my masks. At most I wear eye makeup, but lately a coat of mascara is all I bother with. I clean my skin thoroughly morning and night and sometimes halfway through my day if I’m sweating a lot. If you are still getting pesky pimples after employing these simple strategies, it is probably time to see your aesthetician. If you are uncomfortable going to an office right now, I don’t blame you BTW, I have a few things you can try at home.

If your breakouts are new and few you can try simple spot treatments to take down inflammation, kill bacteria, and dry up excess oil production. ZO Skin Health Sulfur Masque is one of my favorite tried and true pimple remedies. Sulfur is a naturally occurring clay that helps to rapidly reduce and heal blemishes. Simply apply a thin layer to freshly cleaned skin directly onto the offending lesion, leave on for at least 10 minutes (although I often have my patients leave it on overnight) and wash off. That’s it! If you have a history of acne that has made a resurgence with he addition of masks in your life, you can try a different spot treatment that is a little more aggressive. Rhonda Allison Acne Remedies Blemish Serum is a fantastic gel that contains the powerful acne fighting ingredient salicylic acid. It dries clear so it can be used to spot treat day and night or even under your mask!

If you are like me, and you wear an N95 mask you may experience a contact dermatitis from formaldehyde release caused by certain types of N95 masks. After my first week back in the office I noticed a red itchy raw rash forming on my neck where the mask sits in contact with the skin. It was also visibly irritating the skin on my cheek bones just below my eyes. If you are experiencing similar issues, here’s what you can do. Wash your face thoroughly after removing your mask and apply a thin layer of 1% Hydrocortisone cream (steroid cream that’s available over the counter) each night before bed until the rash clears. You can put a thin layer of Aquaphor ointment over the cream to occlude it and prevent it from rubbing off before it can do its thing. I also ordered a gaiter mask (a tube of thin fabric that can be worn up over the nose and covers the entire neck) from Amazon (I think Jeff Bezos owes me stock) which I wear under the N95 as a super thin barrier between my skin and the mask. Once the existing rash clears up, be sure to take good care of your skin and make sure it gets plenty of moisture I really like Avène Tolérance Extrême Cream for mask days. My regular moisturizing products all contain active anti-aging ingredients that cause more irritation in the warm moist (I know, ewww) environment under the mask. I learned that the hard way.

Whether you are wearing a mask for a few errands or for long shifts at work there are skin-related repercussions to consider. With proper care and conscious usage, masks are far more tolerable. It doesn’t look like they are going away anytime soon, so we should be well informed about how to use them properly and how to care for the skin they cover.

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