A Dermatologist’s Guide to Treating Irritated Facial Skin During COVID-19

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A Dermatologist’s Guide to Treating Irritated Facial Skin During COVID-19 featured image
Photo Credit: Arman Zhenikeyev / Getty Images

Earlier this week, Rochelle Weitzner, founder of Pause Well-Aging, was moved by images of doctors and nurses with faces cracked, irritated and broken out as a result of wearing protective gear during long shifts to treat COVID-19 patients.

To help the skin conditions and provide a bit of self-care, she made the decision to stock care packages with her products to send the healthcare workers a small bit of reprieve—and hydration.

“Right now, a common complaint is excessive dryness of the hands because of frequent hand-washing,” says San Antonio dermatologist Vivian Bucay, MD. “But there’s also a lot of irritation of facial skin due to rubbing by face masks.” 

Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew J. Elias agrees: “It’s not quite as common as hand dermatitis yet, but we’re definitely going to see more of these mask-related skin conditions in the coming weeks.”

While all of these skin conditions are a minor footnote with everything else that’s going on right now, cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos, who previously formulated for Purell, says it’s important to note that good skin health is a solid line of defense against a whole lot of aggressors.

“Our skin performs many important functions like retaining moisture, regulating temperature and providing a physical barrier against pathogens,” she says. “Prolonged use of face masks can result in compression marks or chaffing from straps and other areas of contact with the skin.”

Her recommendation: After removing a mask, apply a gentle moisturizer to clean skin, which can help maintain skin health. “A heavier moisturizer that contains a high percentage of occlusive and emollient ingredients may be more tolerable if applied prior to bed—this gives it time to work.” 

New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD is also a fan of the heavy-duty moisturizer route. 

“The better the skin barrier is, the healthier the skin is. Go home, take off the mask, wash your face and put a heavy-duty moisturizer on,” she recommends. “Those heavy-duty ointments—the greasy ones—will give you the most moisture. If you prefer something natural, you can even apply olive oil.”

In addition, Dr. Peredo notes that mask-wearers who have a beard might be smart to shave their faces right now. “Sometimes, a mask won’t adhere properly to facial hair and that hair can actually hold on to bacteria.”

Dallas dermatologist Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD is also thinking into the future and says, while she has seen this with healthcare providers—as well as with herself, personally—before, she’s certain we’ll see more of it with the general public in the coming weeks.

“It’s why we sometimes wear Band-Aids over our noses,” she says. “I’ve always liked treating it with a good moisturizer or, when it’s severe, a topical steroid. Luckily, there are many options.”

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