Wearing a Mask

Wearing a mask is important Photo

Wearing a Mask is an important part of the fight against COVID-19

The use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), notably face masks, has become an important weapon in our arsenal in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19. Research shows that face masks, even of the reusable cotton type, can help to substantially reduce the risk of infection.1

While the science is strong, and the need to wear face masks is critically important in helping to curb the spread of the virus, this doesn’t mean that there are no downsides to wearing one, especially for our skin.

How facial skin can be affected by face masks

The skin is a complex organ that requires carefully balanced environments, both inside the body and out, to function effectively. As the skin is literally the body’s first line of defence to the outside world, this means that it is particularly sensitive to changes in factors such as temperature, humidity and friction. If any of these are too high or too low, your skin can react in a multitude of ways, from dryness to redness to irritation.4

Wearing a mask for extended periods of time is introducing a relatively enclosed environment that can increase temperature on that part of the face. Increasing temperature can also increase sebum (oil) secretion, potentially giving rise to skin breakouts and pimples or, in some instances, acne. This mask-induced acne has even given rise to a new term: ‘maskne’.5

In addition, exhaled breath can lead to some condensation within the mask itself, increasing the moisture content on the skin. This can irritate the skin, and is fertile ground for acne-causing bacteria. Finally, the mechanical friction caused by wearing a mask, especially behind the ears and around the cheeks, nose and chin, can lead to irritation and redness.5

Clearly, the effects of a face mask on the skin can be uncomfortable and potentially lead to incorrect usage. Below are three areas to keep in mind to help make wearing a mask as comfortable as possible.

Manage some of the effects of mask-wearing on your skin

Hydration is key to the proper functioning of the skin.

The use of moisturisers can help alleviate dry skin and itch.

The use of moisturisers, commonly termed emollient therapy, is a well-documented way of helping to alleviate symptoms such as dry skin and itch. The European Guidelines for Chronic Pruritus (itch), for example, lists moisturisers as one of the basic options to help alleviate itch.6

1. Chu DK, Akl AA, Duda S, Solo K, Yaacoub S, Schunemann HJ. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 2020;395(10242):1973-1987

2. Dbouk T, Drikakis D. On respiratory droplets and face masks. Phys Fluids 2020;32(6):063303

3. Engebretsen KA, Johansen JD, Kezic S, Linneberg A, Thyssen JP. The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis. JEADV;30(2):223-249

4. Tan Y. BBC. ‘Maskne’ and bold makeup: how masks are changing how we look. [internet] 2020. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-53468051

5. Szepietowski JC, Matusiak L, Szepietowska M, Krajewski PK, Bialynicki-Birula R. Face mask-induced itch: a self-questionnaire study or 2,315 responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acta Derm Venereol

2020;100:adv00152

6 Szepietowski JC, Matusiak L, Szepietowska M, Krajewski PK, Bialynicki-Birula R. Face mask-induced itch: a self-questionnaire study or 2,315 responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acta Derm Venereol 2020;100:adv00152