Skin and eye problems afflicting mask wearers; KDWN’s Dr Daliah explains

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There have been many reports of masked acne, chelitis, dry eyes and styes since the mask warrants took place this spring.

Since masks provide a barrier against respiratory droplets, they can also, however, be problematic for the surrounding skin and eyes.

N95 masks, for example, are made from non-woven polypropylene fibers which can increase sweating and cause skin damage.

Acne develops when fatty sebum and dead skin cells clog the pores. Inflammation and bacteria can make rashes worse. Masks can prevent ventilation and increase moisture build-up, predisposing one to many “masks”.

Cheilitis is a condition that affects the perioral region and often involves the folds of the mouth. This can happen when oral fluids are not wiped off, breaking down the skin and allowing bacteria or fungi to set in and grow.

Dry eyes can occur when people breathe through their noses and air is directed upward towards their nasal bridge, blowing directly into their eyes. Many have noticed that they mist their glasses while wearing their masks. Dry eyes can be painful, itchy, and lead to vision problems if not treated early.

Styes have been reported at increasing rates. Some believe that bacteria from the nose, mouth or face travel to the eyes during mask breathing and settle in the hair follicle or sebaceous glands of the eyelid.

While all of the above skin conditions and “darkened eyes” are treatable, there are things we can do to prevent them.

  1. Wear a well-fitting mask. Masks that are too small can cause irritation, leading to skin breakdown.
  2. Wash your face regularly to clean off dried sweat and skin debris.
  3. Adjust your mask so that no air is blowing into your eyes
  4. Talk to your employer about taking frequent short breaks outside to air your face.
  5. If you sweat under your mask, change your mask more frequently.
  6. If you wear contact lenses, use eye rewet drops to keep your eyes moist and lubricated. Artificial tears can help those who don’t wear contact lenses and suffer from dry eyes.

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP


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