Dr. Suzan Obagi, an associate professor of dermatology and plastic surgery and director of UPMC Cosmetic Surgery & Skin Health Center, is no stranger to mask-related skin problems — as with many medical professionals in the time of COVID-19, removing your mask on the job is now no longer an option.
Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with Dr. Obagi about what people can do to keep their skin clear while also staying safe and healthy.
You mentioned personally experiencing irritation from wearing masks. How do you deal with it?
Wearing masks for me during surgery is routine. But wearing masks every day, all day, while at work is challenging even for me. I try to take a break from my mask when I am seated at my desk and away from staff and patients.
I make sure to start the day with washing and toning my skin, followed by a very light-weight sunscreen and that is all that is needed. If I need my mask to stay in place for an hour or longer, I apply a strip of paper tape (Micropore Tape) across the bridge of my nose to hold the mask in place so that I am not having to touch it to keep readjusting it.
During the day, I do take breaks from the masks whenever possible. However, if I am out running errands and it is hot, I carry acne-wipes in a non-rinse formula to clean my skin whenever needed. Upon returning home, I make sure to wash my hands and then to wash my face.
Have you seen an increase in patients coming to you with mask-related skin problems or questions?
Yes, we have had patients coming in for facial rashes or worsening acne from wearing masks in hot environments, or by having on heavy moisturizers or makeup. Some patients, especially healthcare workers that have to wear tight-fitting masks for prolonged periods of time, are developing rashes and chafed skin.
What advice would you give those who suffer from skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, or rosacea, when wearing masks?
Acne, eczema, and rosacea are skin conditions that can be aggravated by wearing a mask for prolonged periods of time. For acne patients, I suggest trying to keep the skin free of makeup and heavy moisturizers to minimize clogged pores and acne flares. Rosacea and eczema patients need to use fragrance-free/dye-free detergents to reduce irritation from ingredients, [and] a lightweight moisturizer.
What are some products you'd recommend using to help avoid mask irritation or breakouts, especially in the summer? I believe you mentioned witch hazel and tea tree oil as some options?
I like patients with acne-prone skin to wash with a salicylic acid cleanser, or if prescribed, a sulfur-based cleanser. When out and about, keep no-rinse acne wipes on hand to wipe away sweat, oil, and environmental pollutants. When you get back to your home, remove your mask, wash your hands, then wash your face and apply a light, non-comedogenic moisturizer. Some ingredients to look for in cleansers or wipes are salicylic acid, tea-tree oil, or witch hazel.
Are there products someone can use to best clean a reusable mask? How often should they wash them?
Most people can tolerate washing their masks in the washing machine using the same detergents they use for their clothes. However, people with sensitive skin or eczema may need to wash their masks in fragrance-free/dye-free detergents to reduce irritation from certain ingredients.
Do you believe washing your face is just as important as washing your hands during a time like this?
Absolutely! Every time you wear your mask out of the house, you are potentially contaminating it by touching it with your hands. Additionally, you will most likely find that you are a little hot and sweaty under the mask. Thus, I recommend that when you are back at the house, wash your hands, then remove your mask and then wash your face to remove the oil, sweat, lotions, or makeup. You can then apply a light moisturizer if needed or something a little more moisturizing if your skin is chafed or irritated.