Preventing skin sensitity caused by wearing masks has been a huge topic during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have all seen the reports of various skin reactions that the prolonged wearing of face masks and protective eyewear has had on our healthcare workers. These skin reactions include acne, contact dermatitis, pressure injuries and skin dryness. This occurs is due to the face mask’s occlusive nature, which increases the amount of moisture on your skin. Wearing a mask for hours at a time can result in skin breakouts and irritation on the nose, chin and cheeks.

How can we prevent skin sensitivity?

A now-deleted publication by the Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC) in September 2020 highlighted the issue and raised a number of key points to support the skin integrity of the health worker is as follows:

  • Use a mild skin cleanser (or soap substitute) or micellar water at the beginning and end of the day. Standard soap is alkaline and has been shown to change skin pH. It can also damage the skin barrier function.
  • Moisturise regularly with simple formulations. Avoid fragranced products.
  • Start with a less greasy lotion before progressing to a greasier cream if tolerated.
  • Avoid greasy creams if you are prone to acne.
  • Anti-ageing skin care products containing glycolic acids or retinoids can be very irritating, especially when the skin barrier is damaged or compromised. These products may also exacerbate skin sensitivity.
  • Moisturise your face before going to bed.

Other tips also provided are around correct mask fitting and include:

  • Perform hand hygiene before putting on your mask and after taking it off.
  • Take the time to fit your mask properly. Avoid tying the mask too tight; you may need to try different types to get the best fit.
  • The duration of PPE item use should not exceed the manufacturers’ instructions
  • Do not touch your mask as it may be contaminated by microorganisms.
  • If you get skin irritation, try an alternative brand of mask if available.
  • Reduce Friction. If this is a problem, apply moisturising lotion at least 30 minutes before mask wearing to lubricate and reduce friction between the skin and surgical mask. Silicone protectors such as a no-sting barrier film wipe will protect the skin and prevent friction. Barrier creams can also be used when wearing masks for an extended length of time, however these products tend to be greasy which may aggravate acne. If this is an issue, choose a lighter silicone-based product.

Should you experience skin issues with the mask that you are wearing, it is recommended that you raise the matter with your manager or your infection control practitioner and a risk assessment may be indicated.

If you have any questions about infection prevention and control practices in your aged care facility, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Bug Control. With over twenty-five years of experience in infection prevention and control, we can help you with any issues you might be experiencing or any questions you might have.