Dr. Bowes is a board certified dermatologist with over 20 years of clinical experience in medical and cosmetic skin treatments. She has published widely in the medical literature and shares her insights on mask use and skin protection given the risk of skin injury and irritation from mask utilization seen in healthcare workers. CDC guidelines on masks can be viewed here.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued specific guidelines for the use of face masks in the present Covid-19 pandemic. Masks can help a person who is infected with Covid to prevent the spread of the virus to other people. But the opposite is not true. Masks do not prevent a person from catching covid from another person who has the virus. Often times covid does not present with noticeable symptoms from the beginning, and so the CDC has ordered every person to wear a face mask when outside their house, even if they do not have symptoms.
As a result, we have seen millions of Americans wearing surgical masks and homemade masks all over the country. But doctors and healthcare workers need to use special protective masks that have been shown to cause significant skin reactions.
Our doctors, nurses, and all first responders have been seriously affected by the use of face masks. Rigorous schedules and high risk of exposure have forced them to wear the special protection masks called KN95 and N95 masks for long hours, even days at a time. These disposable N95 masks are made of a material that can cause allergic reactions on the skin. Also, the constant wearing and the friction that they cause on the skin, is made worse by trapped sweat and saliva, as well as by mask breathing itself.
As a result of prolonged mask use, myriad skin rashes have been seen, including:
It is very important to address the redness and inflammation that can develop from the use of KN95, N95 masks and other medical masks as soon as possible. Dermatologists and primary care doctors dealing with these rashes recommend the following:
The right skin care is very important for everyone in the times of covid-19, but it is particularly important when mask use among the general population will be commonplace. It is even more important for all health care workers who will be exposed to prolonged mask use during the day.
The skin of the face should be kept in perfect balance and health, so that it can withstand the irritation that can result from wearing KN95 and N95 masks. Many in the general population will be using home made cloth masks that may cause less irritation, especially with proper fabric selection.
The following skin care tips can help prevent skin rashes from face masks in the Covid era for the general population and health care workers: