Whether you’re heading out to pick up dinner, do a grocery run or deliver home-cooked food to your family and friends (while practicing social distancing, of course), getting dressed now includes putting on a face mask the minute you step out of your house. Welcome to the new normal.
However, for some of us, wearing a mask has caused some skin flare-ups. We asked three doctors what are some of the common skin problems associated with wearing masks, how to avoid skin irritation and how to care for your skin the right way.
Common Skin Problems For Different Skin Types
Dr Mark Tang, Senior Consultant Dermatologist at The Skin Specialists & Laser Clinic, says the most common skin issue caused by frequent wearing of masks is eczema, which affects those who have hypersensitive skin. It can present itself in any form ranging from “redness, flaking, itching and in severe cases, oozing and crusting”.
Those with hyper-oily skin can also experience more frequent acne, including “clogged pores, inflamed red papules, pustules and in severe cases, nodules and cysts”.
Another issue he has noticed are pressure sores and skin tears on areas like the nose, upper cheeks and the sides of the cheeks. They can cause tenderness, crusting and wounds, which tend to resolve with dark marks and scars. These pressure-related skin issues are common among “those who need to wear tight-fitting N95 face masks for prolonged periods of time, especially healthcare workers”.
Why Does This Skin Irritation Occur
When we wear a mask, we are (and rightfully so) covering our nose and mouth. This protects people around us as well as ourselves. This means we are essentially covering a large surface area of our faces with pieces of fabric, depending on the type of mask you wear.
“Covering our face increases humidity and heat build up inside the mask,” explains Dr Gerard Ee, Managing Director of The Clifford Clinic. “This can encourage the growth of acne-causing bacteria, cause abrasions on the skin and disrupt the skin’s protective barrier.”
What To Do To Manage Your Skin Flare-Ups
If you experience redness, itching or flaking on your skin, keep your skin well-hydrated by applying a soothing balm that contains fortifying and calming ingredients to help your skin to heal, advises Dr Toby Hui, Senior Aesthetics Doctor of Freia Medical. To relieve discomfort and minimise redness, you can try Biologique Recherche’s Masque Biosensible as it contains soothing actives like hexapeptides and milk proteins.
Dr Ee also recommends using a light moisturiser with ingredients that help protect the skin barrier, like ceramides and niacinamide.
For acne, Dr Hui recommends treating the affected areas with your usual topical spot treatments. Ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acid and retinoids are effective against acne as they help decongest pores and stimulate cellular turnover.
However, if you’re experiencing some form of flare-up that you can’t identify, it’s best to seek the advice of a medical professional and make an online appointment with your physician.
How Can You Prevent Skin Flare-Ups
Not be experiencing any skin irritation yet? That’s great! But it’s important to make sure we know how to take care of our skin as we prepare to return to work or school which would include wearing masks for extended periods of time.
“Avoid wearing makeup and cleanse your face before and after wearing masks to thoroughly remove dead skin cells and oil build up,” says Dr Ee. He also adds that you should choose lighter fabrics such as cotton if you wear reusable cloth masks as it allows for better airflow to reduce the build up of heat and humidity.
In addition, Dr Tang also advises to “avoid wearing the mask for more than six hours at a time”. For those with pre-existing skin conditions, eczema-prone skin should maintain a regular maintenance routine including a suitable moisturiser, while those with acne-prone skin should keep up with regular exfoliation to keep these issues at bay.
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