In an earlier article, we wrote about the types of skin rashes that Covid-19 cause.
The effects of prolonged wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) on the skin are equally relevant. We read about healthcare workers in Wuhan, China, and Europe wearing PPE continuously for a whole shift, because every change of PPE carries a risk of exposure to the virus and uses up precious protective equipment. When the skin is exposed to high temperatures and humidity for a long time, the upper most layer of the skin called stratum corneum becomes weakened. This can lead to breaks in the skin, resulting in pain and even ulcers. Imagine having to work in a stressful environment in continuous pain! A study on healthcare workers found that 97% reported skin problems with PPE.
The same type of skin problems can occur in the non-healthcare setting, as more people started wearing masks continuously whether at work or outside. In an interview with Singapore’s mainstream Chinese newspaper, 联合早报, on 12th May 2020, our consultant Dr Koh Hong Yi lists the types of skin problems one may encounter with face masks:
- Acne mechanica – worsening of acne due to prolonged occlusion of hair follicles.
- Maceration and erosions – from humidity, pressure and rubbing from mask straps or wire strip at the nose bridge.
- Contact dermatitis (eczema) – either from irritation or allergic reaction to mask fabric.
- Dermographic urticaria – hives or wheals in people who are prone to hives from rubbing against the mask.
Dr Koh recommends the following skin care tips:
- Avoid wearing a mask for prolonged periods if possible. If you need to, stay in a cool environment to reduce sweating.
- Apply a light moisturiser to the face, so that it doesn’t clog your pores but also will not affect the seal of your mask.
- Where the mask rubs against the skin (eg. on the nose bridge where the wire strip is, or on the cheeks against the straps), you can put a thin layer of protective dressing such as DuoDERM(r) Extra Thin on the nose or cheek.
- Treat any underlying skin problems such as acne, eczema or urticaria (hives) so they don’t flare up with mask wearing.
For more details, read the full article in 联合早报 here.