Face masks, gloves, and protecting your skin

Facemaks and gloves

More and more of the general public are wearing masks and other protective gear in our everyday lives. We’re wearing them at the grocery store, at work, or even more frequently in the healthcare setting. Here’s what you need to know about wearing masks and gloves, how they can affect your skin, and tips for protecting your skin.

Skin problems from wearing N95 masks or other masks

Acne

If you’re prone to acne, wearing a mask may cause a breakout. The acne is likely occurring as a result of the blockage or closing of the hair follicles (pilosebaceous duct). Treating acne with medications containing benzoyl peroxide and retinoids can take months to take effect and these treatments under a mask can become more irritating than they are helpful.

Hot and humid temperatures can also flare red pimples and blood vessels on your cheeks and nose known as rosacea. A few preventative measures to take include avoiding caffeine, alcohol, sunlight and as much as possible cooling your face throughout the day when you're able to safely do so.

Avoid harsh scrubs or irritating agents. Avoid cleansers containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Use a gentle non-comedogenic face cleanser twice daily. After using the cleanser, apply a thin layer of a ceramide-containing cream.

Recommended cleansers: Dove sensitive skin bar soap, Cetaphil gentle cleanser or Cera Ve hydrating cleanser, Cera Ve moisturizing cream

If you’re not typically prone to acne, the acne should improve as you decrease the amount of time you’re wearing a mask. If you’re acne prone or your acne becomes severe, follow up with your dermatologist for additional recommendations.

Dry skin, itch without rash, and peeling skin

If you’re experiencing dry or peeling skin after wearing a mask for an extended period, wash your face with gentle cleansers. Pat dry gently leaving some moisture on the skin, then apply a heavy moisturizing cream to rehydrate your skin.

Recommend cleansers: Dove sensitive skin bar soap, Cetaphil gentle cleanser or Cera Ve hydrating cleanser.

Look for moisturizer ingredients containing:

  • Ceramides: help maintain a healthy skin barrier
  • Glycerin and hyaluronic acid: hydrate by drawing moisture back into the skin

Recommend moisturizers: Cera Ve moisturizing cream, Aveeno cream, plain Vaseline ointment, or Vanicream.

Remember that pump-bottle lotions tend to contain more alcohol and can burn and sting when applied to skin that’s dry, cracked, or peeling. If you’re applying a moisturizer and it burns or stings, switch to one of the above recommended products. Be sure to avoid all anti-aging products. Retinoid-containing anti-aging products, hydroxy acids, scrubs, and peels can irritate your skin even more.

Pigment changes

Pigment change can occur as a result of excessively dry skin, resolving rashes, and repetitive friction. Pigment changes respond best to the use of heavy emollients like Vaseline but can take months to completely resolve. The pigment change isn’t permanent. If you’re experiencing pigment changes in your skin without associated dry skin or rashes, contact your dermatologist right away.

Itchy Rash

Most itchy rashes from masks will be something called an irritant contact dermatitis, which will clear with a topical steroid like 1% hydrocortisone, gentle cleansers, avoidance of irritants, and heavy moisturizers, However, allergic reaction to formaldehydes, metals, rubbers, or glues in masks may also develop.

After wearing a mask for extended period of time, wash your face with one of the gentle cleansers listed above. Pat dry gently, then apply over the counter 1% hydrocortisone cream, followed by application of one of the heavy moisturizing creams mentioned above. Apply the 1% hydrocortisone cream 2-3x/daily for maximum benefit.

You can try this for up to 2 weeks safely. If you are not clearing at that point, contact your dermatologist. If you clear, slowly taper off the hydrocortisone and replace with a heavy moisturizer only for prevention of recurrence. Contact your dermatologist if you’re not seeing any improvement.

Sores on your nose or behind your ears

Wearing a mask for long periods of time can cause sores on your nose and behind your ears from the friction of the mask against your skin. If you’re having this problem, try using Duoderm on the areas where your mask rubs against your skin which can reduce friction and prevent further skin breakdown. Be sure to use properly, as this can decrease the seal of certain masks. You could also consider the use of a silicone-containing barrier cream like La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume which glides on easily. Finally, Vaseline or a barrier cream like zinc oxide can also be used to reduce friction and prevent excessive water loss from the skin.

Hives

If you’re developing hives, consider contacting an allergist or dermatologist. In the meantime, try using an oral antihistamine. If you take other medications, consult your provider prior to starting. New onset hives can require higher doses than the standard over the counter recommendations. If you don’t have any medication considerations, a good regimen to consider is Allegra 180mg in the morning, and Zyrtec 10mg in the evening. If needed, increase the dose to Allegra 360mg in the morning, and Zyrtec 20mg in the evening. Once the hives clear, slowly taper over 1-2 weeks to lowest effective dose after clearing.

Skin problems from wearing exam gloves

Itchy Rash

Rashes from gloves are usually related to frequent wet-dry situations like sweating into the glove followed by rapid evaporation of moisture when removing the glove. It can also be from the frequent hand washing that occurs after removing gloves. While a rash can sometimes indicate an allergic reaction to the glove ingredients, in most cases your skin is simply irritated and can be treated without additional testing.

Every time you remove your gloves or wash your hands, apply a heavy moisturizing cream or ointment. Keep a pocket-sized moisturizer with you during the day and apply to the back of your hands, then rub the back of your hands together making sure to apply moisturizer to the dorsal hands and between your fingers. If you wash your hand 30 times a day, remember to moisturize 30 times a day.

Recommended moisturizers: Cera Ve moisturizing cream, Aveeno cream, plain Vaseline ointment, or Vanicream

If your rash is itchy, use over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream several times a day after washing. The rest of the time just apply a heavy moisturizer.

If your rash is severe, soak your hands in a warm basin of water at night for 20 minutes, pat dry, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream, then cover with a white cotton glove or white cotton sock and go to bed. Leave on overnight and repeat nightly. Hand dermatitis, also called hand eczema can require stronger prescription topical steroids. We’re seeing lots of hand dermatitis during the COVID-19 pandemic, so don’t hesitate to contact your dermatologist if you feel you need a prescription.

As the rash clears, slowly taper off the hydrocortisone and replace with a heavy moisturizer for prevention of recurrence. If the rash isn’t clearing, contact your dermatologist.

Hives

If you’re developing hives on your hands, consider contacting an allergist or dermatologist. This can be a reaction to ingredients in the gloves, from pressure, or stress. In the meantime, consider use of an oral antihistamine. If you take other medications, consult your provider prior to starting. New onset hives can require higher doses than the over-the-counter recommendations. If you don’t have any medical considerations, a good regimen to consider is Allegra 180mg in the morning, and Zyrtec 10mg in the evening. If needed, increase the dose to Allegra 360mg in the morning, and Zyrtec 20mg in the evening. Once the hives clear, slowly taper over 1-2 weeks to lowest effective dose after clearing.