How to avoid skin problems when wearing a face mask

KUALA LUMPUR: Since it will be compulsory to wear a mask in public places from Aug 1, doctors have advised on the dos and don’ts of using such coverings to avoid skin problems.General practitioner Dr Jim Loi said he had seen 30 cases of issues such as acne and dry and flaky skin in the last two weeks due to the use of face masks.

To avoid such issues, doctors advised people to observe good hygiene, apply a suitable moisturiser on the face and hands to prevent dryness and irritation, replace disposable masks often and ensure that fabric masks were regularly cleaned.Women should also not put on too much make-up under the mask to prevent acne breakouts.

Dr Loi said most of his patients were young adults, adding that such skin problems were noticeable among those who wore a mask for a long period of time and that the problem would worsen in hot and humid weather.

To lessen the dermatitis, he said, a moisturiser should be applied before putting on the mask and after its removal and face cleansing.

Dr Loi said there should be public education on the use and disposal of face masks, as well as ways to reduce dermatitis or acne related to their use.

Medical attendant Siti Fatimah Mahadi, 30, noticed that the eczema on her cheeks flared up after she started wearing a face mask.

“Whenever it rubs against my face or when I sweat, it becomes itchy, ” she said, adding that a dermatologist advised her to use a moisturiser and sunblock.

Trainer Sem Au said rashes would appear on her hands whenever she used the hand sanitiser provided by shopping malls. She then started using her own sanitiser.Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr M. Raj Kumar said he had been seeing two cases weekly.

In one particularly severe case, the patient’s face was inflamed.

He advised that ointment be applied after removing the mask and before bedtime if there were areas of the skin that were chafed.

Consultant dermatologist Assoc Prof Dr Tarita Taib said she had eight cases of dermatitis a month and expected the number to rise.

She said cases of occupational face and hand contact dermatitis among healthcare workers using face masks and hand sanitiser had been documented.

“Friction, rubbing and sweat trapped underneath a mask can cause the skin barrier to break down and lead to redness and flaky skin.“The material of the face mask, the elastic ear loops and paper or fabric dyes can all become allergens to some people, ” Prof Tarita added.

The most common allergens, she said, were formaldehyde, urea, quarterium-15 and fabric dyes used in the manufacturing. Some face mask users would get a runny nose and red, itchy or watery eyes but not skin problems, while others felt claustrophobic and experienced shortness of breath, she added.

Prof Tarita said most of her patients complained of skin dryness or chapped skin.

An alcohol-based sanitiser which incorporated moisturiser or emollient should be used, she said, adding that people with sensitive hands should use a gentle or hypoallergenic soap.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia president Dr Steven Chow said a properly manufactured surgical grade face mask was unlikely to cause issues such as psoriasis and eczema, although continuous wearing of a face mask over long periods could aggravate an existing infection.

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