Since the outbreak of coronavirus in December 2019, we have been hearing a lot about the heroic efforts of the countless health care workers on the front lines. Their commitment to service, compassion, courage and resilience has been hailed and applauded, and rightfully so. But with all the increased infection-prevention measures, including the prolonged use of personal protective equipment, or PPE — comes a set of new skin problems. And on that note, in today’s article we will discuss what measures you can take for preventing PPE-related skin damage.
Whilst reducing the risk of infection remains of paramount importance, it comes as no surprise that wearing the protective equipment for prolonged periods can cause skin damage. In fact, a study from China has reported that 97% of the front-line healthcare workers developed skin reactions, most commonly affecting the nasal bridge, hands, cheeks, and forehead. There are also some reports of acne mechanica or, mask acne and rosacea flares.
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Preventing PPE-Related Skin Damage: What to use?
First things first, prep your skin for PPE
For front line medical and essential workers, and that includes both my sisters, remember maintaining well-hydrated skin is the key. Make sure you drink plenty of water, choose gentle cleansers (for dry and oily skin) and apply a moisturizer both before putting on the N95 mask as well as, after removing it.
There are a range of the products available that can help decrease friction related injuries associated with the regular use of PPE.
This includes silicone adhesive foams, tapes or duoderm that acts as an interface between the skin and the PPE. You can cut and place thin strips of the foam dressing behind your ears where your the elastic band of your mask attaches.
Additionally, you can make use of mask hooks or extended ear straps that eases out the pressure on the ears. This in particular, would be very helpful for all the hijab-wearing front line workers.
PPE Skincare Guide: Moisturizers
It is recommended that you apply the moisturizing cream at least 30 minutes before wearing the PPE. Ensure that the barrier product does not build up residue under the mask. The NHS guidelines recommend taking regular breaks, every two hours from wearing the mask to relieve the pressure and reduce moisture build up. This will also give the skin time time to recover, which is very important.
Use moisturizers that contain ingredients such as ceramides, glycerin and hyaluronic acid. My recommendations would be using either the Cerave moisturizing cream, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream or La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Facial Moisturizer.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream
Why we love it?
Enriched with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, this moisturizer will help heal the skin’s compromised barrier. It absorbs quickly and does not leave a greasy feeling on the skin. To fit in to your routine, this is to be used after cleansing your skin and just before putting on an occlusive layer.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($16, amazon)
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream Intense Hydration
Why we love it?
With a feather light texture, this moisturizer from First Aid Beauty fits in our criteria of a healing and protecting cream perfectly. It contains skin-strengthening ingredients such as ceramides, allantoin and colloidal oatmeal.
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream ($34, amazon)
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer
Why we love it?
If you have sensitive, combination or oily skin, then this should work best for you. Formulated with ceramide, niacinamide and glycerin, it sinks in quickly and does a great job of moisturizing without feeling heavy. It also contains SPF 30, however, the only thing to note about this is that its texture is a little thick, so you might want to take that into consideration.
LRP Toleriane Double Repair ($20, amazon)
PPE Skincare Guide: Barrier Creams
Next up, are the skin barrier creams. These will help to protect and restore your skin barrier. When given the option, opt for products that dries quickly.
In particular, look for ingredients such as “cica”, also known as centella asiatica, and/or dimethicone. While cica functions to soothe irritated skin, dimethicone on the other hand, creates a protective seal over the compromised skin to help decrease rubbing and irritation.
Among the barrier creams, here are our top recommendations: La Roche-Posay Cicaplast B5 Balm ($15, amazon), Bioderma Cicabio Cream ($12, amazon), Aquaphor ($13.74, amazon) and Dermalogica Barrier Repair ($47, amazon).
Be gentle to your skin
Now is not the time to experiment with your skin. It is best recommended to minimize physical exfoliation and better still, avoid initiating use of new ingredients during this period.
If you have an active rash, that is not responding to the barrier cream, you can consider using over the counter hydrocortisone cream to relieve inflammation, itchiness and redness.
The American Academy of Dermatologists have developed guidelines for minimizing skin damage associated with the use of PPE. Below you can find an excerpt from the guideline regarding the use of N95 masks.
Preventing PPE-Related Skin Damage: N95 Masks
- Wash your face with a gentle face wash before and after wearing a mask.
- Apply a non-comedogenic face moisturizer after washing.
- Use mineral oil or petroleum-based ointments (or barrier creams) after you are done wearing the mask for the day, to heal irritated skin. Do not apply this under the mask.
- If possible, remove the mask for at least 5 minutes every few hours.
- If irritation persists, consider applying liquid skin sealants prior to use.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. For more skin-care posts and reviews, check out our archive here.