We all need to wear masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For some people, though, that essential protection is proving to be a maddening skin irritant. But don’t ditch the mask.

To help you navigate masking challenges, we talked with two Novant Health Skin Care experts:

Dr. Alyssa Searles Daniel, a board-certified dermatologist with Novant Health Dermatology – SouthPark, and physician assistant David Dorenfeld of Novant Health Dermatology Associates in Matthews.

Is there specific medical advice when it comes to masking and skin care – especially in the summer?

A. Daniel
Dr. Alyssa Searles Daniel

Everyone needs to wear sunscreen, Daniel said. And it’s counterintuitive, but it is imperative for people with skin of color to wear sunscreen every day, too. It’s a huge teaching point for me, and a lot of my patients of color are hearing that message for the first time.

If you have acne or are acne-prone and go out in the sun, the sun may make those areas of acne darker on people with already-dark skin tones. It’s called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.You want to prevent it if you can, and you can help prevent it by wearing sunscreen.

To treat it, Vitamin C serum can be effective. There’s a reliable brand called The Ordinary. Look for their product that contains azelaic acid. It can improve uneven skin texture. But if those darker spots turn into keloid scarring – something that’s more common in skin of color – you probably need to see a physician for treatment.

David Dorenfeld

What makes “maskne," or facial breakout due to masking, happen? And who’s susceptible to it?

We’re all susceptible, Dorenfeld said. We can get dermatitis – meaning skin irritation – whenever something comes in contact with our skin. Acne can result when our pores are clogged. Wearing something tight fitting, like a face covering, can contribute to developing maskne. Occasionally, a similar process is seen in football players, due to their helmets and chin straps, and in women due to sports bras. This is called Acne mechanica. There can be pustules, and they may even itch. It can be uncomfortable.

For the mask to work as it should, it needs to be tight-fitting. Those of us who work in health care, in restaurants, at grocery stores and in some other fields know how restrictive a mask can be. The tightness is what leads to skin irritation because of heat and friction. A bit of good news is that, in public, the mask can cover the irritated skin. But when people are at home with their families and not wearing a mask, it’s visible. There are things we can do to help reduce irritation.

Good. Like what?

Start with good hygiene. Take “mask breaks” as you’re able during the day. While on a break, wash your face with a mild cleanser like Cetaphil, which is available at grocery and drug stores. A Cetaphil wipe is even more discreet. That’s a good choice if you can’t easily get to a sink to wash with a cleanser and water. Let your face air dry before putting your mask back on. Consider having a backup mask with you so you can put on a fresh one.

Adding a moisturizer can help, too. I recommend something gentle such as Cerave PM. Moisturizing can provide a good barrier to reduce friction.

What about people who have already developed maskne? What can they do to treat it?

Using a lotion or cream with benzoyl peroxide can help. That’s a common ingredient in over-the-counter acne creams. Also, changing out your masks on a regular basis is a good idea. We all should have a regular rotation. Wash cotton masks after each use.

Also, if you’re already using a product for a facial condition like rosacea or acne, putting a mask on top of that could make the medicine more potent. You may want to pull back a little on the amount you use.

Are some mask materials better tolerated than others?

A cotton mask is much less irritating than a synthetic one. But those of us in health care and in some other fields are required to wear synthetics because they offer a tighter fit.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The need to wear a mask right now outweighs any inconvenience it might cause, including skin irritation. It’s incumbent on all of us to find the right balance between masking up and taking care of our skin.

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