Seeing red because of face masks? Here’s what to do

Personal protective equipment great for slowing spread of COVID-19, terrible for your skin

Dr. Cara Jenkins, who founded Joliet Dermatology in 2010, has some suggestions for people experiencing rashes from wearing facemasks.

By wearing a face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, people are finding the masks themselves are causing another problem: rashes.

Dr. Cary Jenkins, a dermatologist with offices in Joliet and Morris, is seeing more patients – especially health care workers, she said – who are winding up with rashes on their face from wearing face masks.

But not all the rashes are the same.

“Some of it can be bacterial overgrowth or inflammation under the skin from the constriction of the mask,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes it can be something related to the mask itself being irritating to the skin.”

Face masks also can aggravate acne and cause it to flare up, she said. According to the John Hopkins website, people who already have other skin conditions – such as rosacea, allergies, atopic dermatitis and sensitivity to dry air – may be more prone to rashes when they wear face masks.

Jenkins said face masks also can cause perioral dermatitis, a rash where inflamed bumps typically form around the mouth. Using steroids on the face may contribute to it, she said.

“It’s something we saw prior to COVID and now as well,” Jenkins said.

Rashes with lot of inflammation can itch, and rashes caused by bacteria can hurt, she said. For a mild rash, people can try over-the-counter medications for acne, but if the rash persists, they should see a health care provider, Jenkins said.

When asked if it is possible to prevent rashes caused by face masks, Jenkins said, “I would try keeping the face clean with mild cleanser and using the appropriate topical medicine to bring down the eruption.”

In some cases, depending on the rash, the person might need an oral antibiotic, she said.

Although Jenkins said she hasn’t personally seen any of the rashes that are unique to COVID-19, such as “COVID toes” and multisystem inflammatory syndrome. But she is seeing certain rashes more often, such as eczema and psoriasis, she said.

Jenkins said sometimes people also get a rash after having certain viral infections – and COVID-19 is no exception.

“Many rashes after viral infections do go away on their own after several weeks,” Jenkins said. “If they are symptomatic, there are treatments that can be used.”

But don’t try treating a new rash or a rash of unknown cause by yourself, she warned. Be sure to have a health care provider check out the rash.

Finally, Jenkins is seeing more hand rashes this year because of increased hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer.

“It’s the time of year – winter – when people are suffering from hand rashes, period,” Jenkins said. “However, this year, it’s on a whole new level.”

To combat hand rashes, Jenkins recommends using a thick moisturizer at bedtime. Using a moisturizer every time after washing hands would be great but often is impractical in the workplace, Jenkins said.

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