From a dermatologist: How to beat “maskne,” dry hands, and other safety-related skin problems

You are doing all the right things: washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask when out in public, getting the requisite sunlight needed to reduce stress and maintain your health. And the reward you’re getting for all your diligence?

Dry skin, damaged nails, acne, and sunburns.

As we continue to live with the threat of COVID-19, more people find themselves wrestling with skin issues they never anticipated. Fortunately, there are easy and inexpensive ways to protect your skin from harm while you protect yourself and your community from the spread of disease.

How to tame “maskne”

Talk to surgeons, construction workers, or anyone else whose day job requires masks, and they’ll tell you the issue of mask acne, or “maskne,” is extremely common.

Maskne happens for two reasons. The first is the friction of your mask rubbing against your face and irritating your skin. The second comes from the hot, germ-filled air emanating from your nose and mouth that gets trapped under your mask. This creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeast to grow and cause acne.

To keep maskne at bay, wash your face twice daily. In the morning, use a gentle face wash; at night, opt for a cleanser containing salicylic acid, which helps keep your pores clean. Washing more than twice a day can damage your skin, so for in-between cleansing, carry low-strength glycolic acid pads with you. When you are able to remove your mask safely, use the pads to wipe your face and open up your pores.

If you still find yourself battling breakouts, talk to a dermatologist about treatment with benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin. For some people, twice-weekly face washing with a dandruff shampoo that contains ketoconazole or selenium sulfide can also remove excess yeast buildup and help control acne.

In addition to washing your face, it is important to regularly wash your mask. Dirt, oil, and bacteria can gather on your mask, clogging pores. Choose a gentle detergent and stay away from fabric softeners, which can irritate your skin.

After you’ve washed your face – and before you pop on a clean mask – don’t forget to moisturize. A light, non-comedogenic moisturizer should protect your skin from friction, without clogging your pores.

Another often-overlooked source of maskne is your mouth. Try to brush your teeth and use a mouthwash before donning your mask. This will not only feel (and smell) better, it will help kill some of the bacteria that causes under-mask breakouts.

Staying hydrated is also important for skin health. In my practice, I’ve seen people who aren’t drinking enough water because their mask either makes them forget to drink, or they don’t think they safely can. It is important to find a safe place to take breaks and hydrate.

How to wash your hands of dry skin

We are all washing our hands more than ever, which is good for infection control, but hard on skin health. The key to keeping your hands clean while keeping your skin healthy is choosing a gentle soap and applying moisturizer immediately after washing. The difference in soaps is so profound, I advise my patients to bring their own soap to work with them, if their office soap is too harsh and drying.

I also advise against using hand dryers, as these can chap skin. If you have a choice between washing your hands and using a hand sanitizer, opt for the soap. It will usually be more forgiving to your skin than alcohol-based sanitizers. Regularly using a fragrance-free hand lotion that contains glycerin or coco butter can also help.

At home, try to wear gloves whenever doing housework, especially if you are using strong cleaning agents that can damage skin. And, as a treat for your skin, try a weekly “sock treatment.” Once a week, I put a layer of Vaseline on my hands and sleep with old pair of socks or gloves on my hands. This helps to trap moisture and rehydrate skin.

Don’t forget the sunscreen

People tend to associate sunscreen with a day at the beach. But if you conduct business meetings all day on Zoom in your backyard, the sun doesn’t know the difference. Before you step outside to hike, bike, walk, or work, don’t forget the sunscreen.

COVID-19 will likely be with us for a while, as will the precautions we need to minimize the threat of the disease. The good news is there are simple solutions to keep our community healthy without harming our skin.

Bita Bagheri is a dermatologist, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA.

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