What is ‘Maskne’? How PPE Use is Affecting Nurses

When it comes to PPE, most news outlets are reporting about its scarcity. However, the latest problem for many healthcare professionals (especially nurses) is “maskne”: an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis caused by wearing a mask, gloves, and other types of PPE for a long time. 

This term first appeared on social media, and there’s a chance you might be one of its victims, so let’s dive in to see what this is all about, and how you can protect yourself from it.

Common skin problems from the constant use of PPE

Nurses have to wear N95 masks (and other similar products) for a really long time. Sometimes more than 10 hours a day. They are very much at risk of developing certain skin conditions as a result, including acne breakouts, itchy rashes, and even pigment changes.

Dermatologists refer to this condition as acne mechanica. This problem is very common among athletes and other people who wear equipment that causes friction. That is why we are currently seeing it in essential workers because of PPE.

Some of our students refer to these problems as ‘maskne’ or ‘PPE disease,’ and the first issues that people have reported to us are pimples and full-on acne breakouts. However, these problems might be worse for people who are already allergic to things like dust or people who have naturally dry skin. But why is this happening? Keep reading to find out!

Why are N95 masks and other PPE products causing damage to the skin?

The main answer is that there’s a lot of dirt, dust and sweat accumulating in your face. Masks block the hair follicles on the skin, and the humid environment inside the mask makes matters worse. You can’t feel it at first, but your facial skin suffers because of this.

The second part of the answer to this question has to do with usage. Nurses are regularly adjusting their PPE, and the long hours of wearing a protective mask cause these foreign agents to remain on your face. 

Some nurses have also reported to us that the low quality of current PPE masks might have something to do with this. Given the shortage of quality equipment, there’s a chance that some of these masks are not medical-grade.

Non-medical grade masks might contain materials that can affect the skin. The material that’s most likely to harm the skin is latex, which can cause severe allergic reactions. There are also reports of formaldehyde being present in some N95 masks.

There have not been any official reports for any of these claims, but this is very plausible. Since there is a shortage of protective masks, healthcare institutions are turning to vendors that usually serve other non-healthcare facilities.

Also, traditional providers of medical equipment might not have enough supply to cover the current demand, which means that healthcare facilities might be turning to non-medical suppliers to buy protective masks in bulk.

What can I do if I have “maskne”?

Some healthcare news outlets suggest several lifestyle changes that might help prevent these rashes and breakouts. Staying away from alcohol and caffeine is advised. It’s also recommended to use skin cleansers and moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid or glycerine. Ceramide cream and nicotinamide also do the trick. 

Many people who are prone to acne might already be using some of these products. However, for people with dry skin, the situation might be a little more complicated. They will need to hydrate their face regularly, both before and after using PPE masks.

For them, the constant use of PPE might result in skin cracking or peeling from the constant friction. As we don’t know where our protective equipment is coming from, skincare has to become a priority for every essential worker – especially nurses.

Some products that you can use right now are sensitive skin soaps from brands like Dove or one of the many creams from the CeraVe brand. These products will work for both people with acne and people that are suffering from itchy skin rashes. Vaseline, Aveeno, and Vanicream are also very popular and effective moisturizers. Another choice is hydrocortisone or Cetaphil cleanser. 

People who are experiencing these issues should also stay away from anti-aging products. They might seem like a good option, but the main goal is to keep the skin moist to keep dust and dirt from entering the pores.

We should mention that we also received reports of people using surgical tape to protect their faces from low-quality masks. We do not encourage this particular practice, as it might worsen your maskne if you already have it. A good skincare routine is your best friend right now.

What can I do to prevent “maskne” from happening to me?

Follow all the recommended skincare guidelines. The truth of the matter is that N95 masks are the best option when no other PPE alternatives are present. The CDC has said that lower-grade surgical masks can work as a replacement, but recent studies have shown that they don’t protect you as much as higher-quality PPE. 

Nurses and other healthcare workers have been protesting this CDC ruling since it came out, but there haven’t been any significant changes. At this time, using a real N95 mask is the best chance nurses have at protecting themselves from the pandemic. 

The real problem lies in the quality of these masks, but the demand is just too high. It might be some months before nurses have access to better quality PPE, and this poses a problem for people who might be allergic to latex (in particular). This allergy can cause anaphylaxis, so everyone should be on the lookout for possible complications.

To keep yourself safe from COVID-19, you will have to make do with what’s available right now. However, there’s a lot that you can do to protect yourself and your skin. Share this article with other nurses that might be suffering from maskne to let them know that they are not alone in the fight. Also, keep an eye open for more information on the subject, brought to you by NPHub.

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