The protocols for protecting oneself from COVID-19 are essential and remain our best defense, to date, in stopping the spread of coronavirus and other serious infections like the flu. Wearing face masks and frequent hand-washing are crucial, so it’s important to take care of your skin.
So-called “maskne” – an acne breakout or irritation around and under face coverings – can be problematic, especially for those who wear them for many hours a day. Surgical-grade masks, like the N95 and KN95 worn by health care workers, don’t breathe like cotton masks and can lead to humid and moist skin surfaces that breed breakouts and irritation.
Healthy Face Care
Even breathable cotton masks can lead to irritation or acne when worn for extended periods, however. Make sure your mask fits snugly but comfortably and take mask breaks throughout the day. Use clean masks each day; cotton masks should be washed in hot water.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends skipping makeup, peels, scrubs, and anti-aging products while wearing a mask and washing your face afterward. For those with an acne outbreak, try an over-the-counter face wash that contains between 2 to 5% benzol peroxide (higher percentages can be irritating). If that doesn’t work, it’s wise to see a dermatologist.
Moisturizers, lotions and creams can help with mask irritation on the face or from the loops behind the ears. They also are essential in mitigating the dry skin and irritation – even eczema – that many are experiencing because of frequent hand-washing and the application of hand sanitizers.
Keep the Germs from Getting Under Your Skin
Hand-washing – for 20 seconds in lukewarm water – is the best first-line of defense against disease, so don’t scale back on that. But dry and cracked skin can provide avenues for bacteria and germs to get in your body so it’s important to moisturize after hand-washing. Opting for a gentler, less acidic soap with a pH level in the 6-7 range can also help.
Use sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend hand sanitizers contain ethyl alcohol levels of at least 60 percent. Most are usually around 70 percent, which can be very drying for skin. Look for ones that also contains hydrating ingredients, like glycerin, aloe vera or urea. I like the H2One Awakening Citrus hand sanitizer gel. It’s good to stick with American brands, as some from elsewhere have been shown to contain harmful chemicals. Afterward apply a good moisturizer with quality ingredients like shea butter or coconut.
Don’t let up on COVID prevention. Just add a few simple steps that can also help protect your skin!
Dr. Boakye practices at Bergen Dermatology in Englewood Cliffs. She is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in New York City. She developed her own skin care line, Karité (mykarite.com).
Dr. Boakye is affiliated with numerous professional societies, including the American Academy of Dermatology, and she has been featured in Redbook magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; and others.
To schedule an in-person or telemedicine appointment with her, call 201-567-7546.