Winter dry skin is something we’ve come to expect each year. But tag on a pandemic with the constant hand washing and hand sanitizing and it can all add up to one big ouch. With daily mask-wearing, you may also find yourself more prone to breakouts. Since masks and hand washing are here to stay for a while, Tryon Medical Partners’ dermatologist Dr. Erin Hodges has some tips of the trade to help us, and our skin, get by.
Ok, so we have to ask. Is “maskne” a real thing and term that dermatologists use?
Although maskne is not an official term I would ever use in my notes, we are definitely seeing flare-ups of acne, rosacea and irritant dermatitis (an itchy or burning rash on the face that can come from the rubbing of a mask) that may be triggered by mask-wearing. So if someone refers to maskne, we know what they are talking about.
Is there anything we can do to prevent this?
Well, the first thing I would say to do is to make sure you are regularly washing your fabric mask or using disposable ones for the recommended single-use wear. If you are experiencing an acne flare-up, begin a gentle skin regimen, including a facial wash and moisturizer two times a day (morning and evening). It’s tempting to jump straight to the harsher skin care products, but they can sometimes cause more skin irritation. If you find you need something more, you can add to your gentle skin regimen with a product that contains benzoyl peroxide, available over the counter. There are also retinoid products to try at night, like Differin, which used to only be available by prescription but is now over-the-counter (although a higher strength product is available via prescription). But again, products with benzoyl peroxide or retinoids can be irritating to some people. Everyone’s skin is different, so the approach needs to be adjusted on an individual basis. That’s why I always recommend that you try one product at a time to see how you do with it. For some, a gentle skin care regimen with benzoyl peroxide in the morning and a retinoid product at night may do the trick. If you are still struggling to calm down your skin, talk to a board certified dermatologist, since you may need a prescription-strength product.
Besides the ones you just mentioned, are there any other products that you recommend?
Most dermatologists have their own list of favorites. CeraVe is a line that contains a lot of high-quality products, like facial cleansers and moisturizers with SPF 30, body moisturizers, lotions and ointments, and products made specifically for acne, like the Differin mentioned above. I don’t recommend using a body lotion on the face or hands since it’s not designed for these areas where the skin is more delicate. If choosing between a tub of moisturizer or a lotion that comes in a pump, I would go with the tub since it’s generally a more hydrating product. For prescription-strength products, Tryon Medical Partners has its own product line.
If we are prone to breakouts, is there anything special we should look for in choosing a mask?
Some people with sensitive skin have found they may react to dyes in fabric masks. If this is the case, choose a white fabric mask, or use a disposable option. For fabric masks, you need to be sure to wash them once a day, and don’t reuse disposable ones.
With all this hand washing, does it matter what kind of soap we use?
You want to avoid harsh soaps on the hands, like dish soap, especially now that we are washing so frequently. For those who suffer from eczema on the hands, we often suggest washing with something milder, like a facial cleanser. People may be drawn to natural soaps with botanical ingredients, but these can sometimes cause a reaction due to the plant oils.
What can we do about our dry, chapped hands?
Hand dermatitis is very common. If you can, try to apply a hand moisturizer after you wash and dry your hands. Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream is a good choice since it’s thick, but blends in better than some of the others. As healthcare professionals who are constantly washing our hands and putting on gloves, we know it’s not always possible to apply moisturizer every time you wash, but do as often as allowed. With fissuring, or cracks, of the hands, I favor an ointment like Vaseline or Aquaphor over a white cream or lotion since those have preservatives that can further irritate the skin. But again, this may be hard to do during the day. You can try applying Aquaphor at night and sleeping with white cotton gloves.
What is better for your skin, washing your hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer?
Washing your hands with soap and water is better from a health standpoint, but hand sanitizers are less irritating, especially if you’re needing to wash your hands all the time. Hand sanitizers leach fewer oils from our skin. The way you dry your hands after washing can also affect your skin, so remember to pat your hands dry versus aggressively drying them, to prevent skin irritation.
Could stress be affecting my skin?
Stress can definitely lead to skin irritation, and even increased hair loss. Acne flare-ups, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and dermatitis are just some of the ways this manifests. These conditions are all the more common as we are in the throes of a pandemic, wearing a mask anytime we leave the house and constantly washing our hands and using hand sanitizer. If you are struggling to calm down your irritated “pandemic” skin, reach out to a board certified dermatologist.