Nasty ‘Maskne’: Ways Healthcare Workers Fighting COVID-19 Can Deal With It

June 25, 2020

Healthcare workers are particularly susceptible to maskne because they tend to wear their masks for extended periods.

One of the scourges of a lot of people’s teen years now dogs infection preventionists and other healthcare workers who fight coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It’s a lot like acne, so much so that it’s called “maskne.” It’s the rash or pimples that break out on the face as a result of wearing a mask. Anybody can get it, but healthcare workers are particularly susceptible because they wear masks for longer periods and their masks tend to fit tighter, according to a research letter recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD).

Investigators with Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China, write that it might be best to ease frontline healthcare workers into being masked for extended periods.

The write that “the prevalence of skin damage of first-line healthcare workers was very high. Moreover, we found that longer exposure time was a significant risk factor, which highlights that the working time of first-line staff should be arranged reasonably. Besides, prophylactic dressings could be considered to alleviate the device-related pressure injuries….”

The study looks at data collected from January to February 2020 in self-administered questionnaires from 542 physicians and nurses working in tertiary hospitals in Hubei, China. Investigators note that hand eczema is quite common among healthcare workers because of frequent hand washing and the wearing of plastic gloves for long periods.

“Considering the frequent hand hygiene and long-time wearing of tertiary protective devices (N95 mask, goggles, face shield, and double layers of gloves) among healthcare workers during the epidemic period of COVID-19, we aimed to estimate the prevalence, clinical features, and risk factors of this skin damage among them,” the study states.

Investigatgors found that healthcare workers who wore "some medical devices more than 6 hours had higher risks of skin damage in corresponding sites than those who did for less time (N95 masks: odds ratio [OR], 2.02; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.35-3.01; P < .01); goggles: OR, 2.32; 95% CI, 1.41-3.83, P < .01), whereas a longer time of wearing a face shield was not a significant risk factor in causing forehead skin damage (OR, 1.52; 95% CI, 0.93-2.50; P = .66).”

Maskne has traveled the globe along with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) ,and there are ways to avoid and/or treat it. On the WebMD blog, dermatologist Laurel Naversen Geraghty, MD, offers some pointers. They include:

  • Don’t wear the masks too tightly. “Healthcare workers, individuals at high risk of infection, and certain others may need to wear a tight-fitting, medical-grade mask…. [B]ut they don’t need to squeeze or press so tightly that they leave indented marks behind. The more heat, rubbing, friction, and pressure against our complexion, the greater the chance of breakouts.”
  • Clean the masks regularly. “Remove any makeup, dirt, oil and bacteria from the skin by washing the face once or twice daily with a mild cleanser.”
  • Replace the mask regularly. “Bacterial buildup inside a warm, damp mask are part of this problem, which is one more reason to wash (or replace) a mask regularly.”
  • Target the bacteria that’s causing the maskne. “Cutibacterium acnes is a bacterium on the skin that’s known for causing pimples. Fight it with an over-the-counter ingredient, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, sulfur, or tea tree oil.”
  • Treat your skin gently. “Avoid rubbing, picking, or overscrubbing your skin. Exfoliate no more than once or twice a week, protect from the sun with broad-spectrum SPF, and soothe your complexion with a moisturizer once or twice daily.”

As the study in the JAAD notes, taking maskne seriously and taking the proper measures to prevent, or at least lessen, it makes for a happier and—presumably—more efficient healthcare worker. “Skin damage caused by enhanced infection-prevention measures among health care workers, which could reduce their enthusiasm for overloaded work and make them anxious, has been reported frequently.”


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