Mask Off: Taming Skin Irritation in the Era of Mandatory Masking

Mask Off: Taming Skin Irritation in the Era of Mandatory Masking

The quest for glowing, youthful skin seems relatively straightforward. For starters, you only seem to need a basic doctorate in dermatology from Harvard to properly choose the perfect serum, exfoliant, gel, cream, or potion from the local apothecary. Is collagen necessary? What percentage of retinol is too much retinol? These are easy questions that will be covered in your medical fellowship. Yes, at some point you may have to slap down a second mortgage on your home to properly arm your medicine cabinet with the goods to keep that acne at bay, but you can’t put a price on beauty. Lastly, just make sure you religiously apply that skincare routine, day and night, without exception. Oh, and water. Drink lots of it. Seems manageable, right? Well, enter the  COVID-19 pandemic and mandatory masking policies. Our pores never stood a chance under those musty masks, festering in humidity and coffee breath all day. No wonder many have just accepted the fate of looking like pubescent versions of themselves. Fortunately, there are options for managing mask-ne and other mask-induced skin conditions and it doesn’t always require a visit to Dr. Pimple Popper. 


Taming your wild skin in the era of masking, especially if your job requires use of restrictive PPE (usually tight goggles, cloth masks, and even the notorious N95 mask) can be a challenge. Frequent use of this tight equipment can lead to the development of two skin conditions known as irritant contact dermatitis and friction dermatitis [1]. These conditions essentially develop from the direct aggravation by chemicals and materials that shear and damage the surface of the skin. The bridge of the nose, cheeks, and chin are most susceptible and often the first to crack, presenting as a combination of unpleasant itchiness and redness. Worse yet, long durations of PPE use can lead to a condition called “lip lick dermatitis” caused by persistent licking of the lips from intense thirst [1]. Turns out sneaking a drink of water throughout the day is a lot more difficult with a vacuum-sealed mask stuck like a barnacle on your face. Those wearing for long durations, using poorly-fitted PPE, or faces prone to excessive 

sweating reported the worst symptom profile [1]. Fortunately, there are solutions short of locking yourself in the basement and hiding your face from the world forever. Make sure the mask you select doesn’t contain latex straps or any metal, as nickel is a well-known skin irritant. Add a good non-comedogenic (non pore-clogging) face lotion or cream (make sure it is face lotion or cream and not those greasy ointments) to your morning routine and apply a strong emollient cream to pressure-prone areas 30 minutes before donning the PPE [1]. Avoid using benzoyl peroxide or alcohol-based leave-on skin care products, as well as abrasive salicylic acid scrubs, as they disrupt the skin barrier further. But, do be sure to use a gentle botanical cleanser (look for a natural product with willow bark and hops) twice daily to help reduce grease and acne growth [2]. If you need assistance with finding the right product for you, let us do the work and [link] you to a qualified esthetician near you. If you seem like you’ve exhausted all your options and are still struggling, perhaps it is time to consider visiting a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating skin conditions, also known as dermatologist. These doctors can share ancient wisdom and tailor the appropriate pharmaceutical touch to your treatment plan to rejuvenate your skin and help ease your worries. Sometimes they can offer more than just their medical expertise, there are even advanced procedures such as dermabrasion that can exfoliate your skin and help reduce acne scars and uneven textures. Click this [link] here for a list of available dermatologists practicing near you, and put their expertise to work for your skin.


To help fight those dry lips and lip-lick dermatitis, keep lip balm within reach and apply generously, and be sure to visit the water cooler frequently for more than just the witty office banter. Speaking of hydration, our diet plays a huge role in our ability to maintain a healthy microbiome. Disrupting the normal, healthy bacteria that make up our skin barrier sets the stage for invasion by opportunistic bacteria that create that look of intense pubertal acne we all try desperately to avoid [2]. One of the best ways to protect and support the development of a healthy microbiome is through eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants [2]. But how can we learn to eat a balanced diet during these trying COVID-times, when our anxiety is telling us to eat our sorrows away? If you find yourself snacking and stress-eating on those foods you know you shouldn’t even be buying, you are not alone!  If you’re someone who struggles with your eating habits, or you would even like to optimize your dietary routine, click this [link] for a list of dieticians who can help guide you in the right direction. Sadly, ice cream does not contain all of the necessary building blocks required to fuel your microbiome, but with the help of a certified professional, you can help create an individualized diet plan that can help you reach your beauty goals. 

Ultimately, it looks like masking is here to stay for the near future. Unless you’re going for that pimple-popping, I just went 12 rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson look, your best bet is to develop a holistic plan to help keep your skin protected and healthy, until it’s time to mask off.



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