“Now that it’s summer, people are sweating under their masks, and this irritates the skin”, says Prof. Torsten Zuberbier, allergy specialist at Charité Berlin and ECARF expert. Many masks also have an inner fleece lining that can further irritate the skin.
Polish scientists surveyed over 1,300 people who wore masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in five were familiar with the itching (Szepitowski 2020) from their own experiences. The longer they wore the mask, the more likely they were to feel itchy.
- sensitive skin
- atopy (a hereditary tendency of the body to produce an allergic response to environmental substances that are actually harmless)
- facial dermatoses (acne, atopic dermatitis or seborrhoeic eczema)
are particularly affected.
One in three respondents stated that they scratched themselves when they itched, either with the mask still on or after removing it. As a result, the protective properties of the mask are reduced.
Skin type is a factor
Different symptoms occur depending on the skin type. People who tend to have oily skin may experience acne-like symptoms, while those with other skin types are more likely to have eczema or atopic dermatitis.
It is important to ensure regular and proper skin care for the given skin type. “People who are prone to acne should at the same time regularly treat their acne in the T-zone – the area around the nose and chin”, advises Zuberbier. He recommends applying a face cream to the cheeks, where the skin is drier even in people who are acne-prone. Heavy and greasy sunscreens should also be avoided in the area covered by the mask.
If small, purulent areas develop on the skin, this means that bacteria have penetrated the skin. If this occurs, antibacterial creams should be used in addition. People should also remember to change their masks.
“It is important to change the mask regularly, otherwise a bacterial film will form on the inside”, says Zuberbier. Conventional disposable masks are often worn too long. Medical professionals usually change them after one to two hours.
If they are left in a pocket and are still damp when worn again later, they become the ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
“Of course it’s a hassle to keep buying new masks, but it might not be worth saving that bit of money if you’re putting yourself at risk”, warns Zuberbier.
Cloth masks should be changed at least once a day and then washed. They offer less protection than disposable masks. “But they are definitely better than no mask at all”, says Zuberbier. They are also the ideal breeding ground for bacteria when crumpled up and stuffed into a pocket while still damp. They should therefore be changed and washed regularly.
Do masks provide any protection at all?
An international research team has evaluated 172 studies from 16 countries on masks and physical distancing. Their work was published in the medical journal the Lancet in June 2020 (Chu 2020). It revealed that physical distancing and mask wearing do offer protection. Masks, even home-made cloth masks, act as a barrier against the fine aerosols in exhaled breath. People who wear masks are above all protecting the people around them, and themselves to a lesser degree.
Chien ALL. Coronavirus: Tips to avoid ‘Maskne’ skin irritation. Expert interview. Last retrieved online: 10 August 2020
Chu DK et al. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 2020; 395: 1973–87
Szepitowski JC et al. Face Mask-induced Itch: A Self-questionnaire Study of 2,315 Responders During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Acta Derm Venereol 2020;100:adv00152.