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Wearing a mask: How to prevent unwanted 'maskne' and chaffing

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Sep. 15, 2020 at 9:32 p.m.


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WEST JORDAN — Research shows wearing a mask is a proven way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but it can be challenging wearing it several hours a day and can sometimes cause unwanted side effects.

The Lloyd family in West Jordan family is getting creative in how they care for their skin behind the mask. They’ve been diligent about wearing face masks in public but not without experiencing a little discomfort.

Eight-year-old Valerie started chafing behind her ears where the elastic from her mask rested.

"It just hurt really bad and I was thinking, my ears… feel like they're gonna bleed," Valerie explained. At one point her little brother actually did bleed a little bit behind his ear.

Valerie’s mom, Sterling Lloyd, also struggled with her own set of issues from wearing a mask six to eight hours a day at work.

"I started noticing a ton of acne breakouts, especially along my jawline and right up here where the mask sits," she described.

Some people have dubbed face acne caused by mask-wearing ‘maskne.’ Sterling said she had fantastic skin throughout her 20s and was horrified to suddenly be dealing with this issue.

"I did feel like a teenager again!" she said.

"I was coming home from work really frustrated, didn't even know what to do," she added. "It can get really gross, really fast."

After dealing with both the chaffing and maskne, the Lloyds decided something needed to change.

"We thought, ‘OK, we've got to do something because these kids are gonna have to wear these masks for six-plus hours a day (at school)," she said.

That's when Sterling and Valerie Lloyd got creative. Valerie told her mom she wished she had a mask as soft as her leggings. They pulled out the sewing machine and started making mask ear loops with an extra soft double brushed polyester fabric.

Eight-year-old Valerie Lloyd and her mom have sewn well over 100 masks. (Photo: KSL TV)

"They don't cause the pressure sores. They don't cause the chafing," she said. "It feels like little clouds behind your ears, basically."

They also started a new skincare routine. They wash their face morning and night. Sterling uses a spot acne treatment and has stopped wearing makeup on the bottom half of her face where her mask covers. She’s also found it’s important to let her face have some breathing time without a mask on.

Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Bryce Desmond, a dermatologist at the Alta View Clinic, says skin is sensitive. Desmond said people that are prone to acne often get maskne worse than others.

He says there are two main factors that play a role in maskne: chronic humidity under the mask and chronic rubbing on the skin.

"The humidity can breed fungus, bacteria and just things that you don't want on your skin," he explained.

"The chronic rubbing around the nose, the ears, sometimes the chin… that just causes irritated hair follicles that tend to turn to pimples," Desmond added.

He said there are a couple of over-the-counter products people who are struggling with maskne can try. He recommends using a 10% benzoyl peroxide wash or adapalene gel, which is an acne-fighting medication.

Sterling Lloyd helps her eight-year-old daughter sew a mask with extra soft ear loops. (Photo: KSL TV)

"Those are the two things you can do now. You can go to the grocery store and buy those," he said. "They're both found in the acne aisle."

Desmond urges people to only use the wash once a day though, to prevent a rash from developing.

He said Vitamin A and D, Desitin, or some type of barrier ointment can also help with chaffing or friction dermatitis. However, he urges people who also have mask acne to not use those creams since the added moisture will make their condition worse.

Desmond said a lot of his patients have found relief by using a mask strap extender or headband, which allows someone to loop their mask to the back of their head instead of behind their ears.

Desmond said it's important to keep your mask both clean and dry.

"I think dry is most important," he said. "If you're finding you have kind of a moist mask from just breathing into it all day, maybe bring a couple masks or change it throughout the day."

Sterling has found changing her mask ever three hours at work has really helped her.

Desmond personally feels disposable masks tend be the best moisture-wicking masks, but encourages people to find whatever works best for them.

Desmond tells people to be patient. "It's not going to go away in a day or two. It's going to take at least a week," he said.

He also warns people to stay away from using hydrocortisone cream, which will only exacerbate their condition. "That's probably the worst thing you can do," he said. "It helps it feel better temporarily, but in the long run, your skin will not recover from the mask acne if you keep using it."

If someone is still having trouble after trying over-the-counter-products, Desmond encourages them to seek out a health care provider. He said there are other oral antibiotics and other prescription creams many patients have had success with.

"You don't have to suffer. It doesn't have to be normal," Sterling said laughing. She is grateful she sought out new products and changed up her routine to find relief.

Valerie is also grateful and said the new masks with extra soft loops have helped immensely. "Amazing! Just feels amazing!" she said.

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