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Tips for Taking Care of Your Skin

Hand hygiene isn't a new concept, but the pandemic has us washing and sanitizing our hands more frequently than ever. In addition, outside of healthcare, most of us aren't used to wearing a face mask. Does handwashing, using hand sanitizer and wearing a mask have an effect on our skin? Christine Harris-Spinks, MD, MPH, with Overlake Clinics Primary Care Newcastle answers your questions on how to avoid skin irritation, if it's possible to overuse sanitizer and when to see your healthcare provider.

What are some skin care tips for avoiding irritation?

A: It is very important to moisturize regularly to help prevent hands from becoming dry, cracked or irritated. I recommend moisturizing immediately after bathing and also frequently throughout the day.

Is it possible to overuse hand sanitizer?

A: Over-sanitizing is definitely an issue. It can lead to dry, cracked or bleeding skin, contact dermatitis, eczema, among others. If the dry skin progresses to the point of cracked and bleeding skin, this actually increases risk of infection because the skin’s protective barrier has been broken.

Some individuals with sensitive skin may have an allergic reaction from an additive in a hand sanitizer or soap. These are usually either an added fragrance or color, but it could be another component.

It's important to wash hands with soap and water, whenever possible, and to reserve using sanitizer only for when you don't have access to soap and water.

Are there products to avoid?

A: There are a number of hand sanitizer brands that have been recalled or listed as dangerous by the FDA. The list of hand sanitizers to avoid continues to be updated. For example: “Harmonic Nature S de RL de MI in Mexico, that are labeled to contain ethanol or isopropyl alcohol but have tested positive for 1-propanol contamination. 1-propanol, is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizer products marketed in the United States.”

Can wearing a mask aggravate skin conditions? 

A: Wearing a mask can flare up a number of underlying skin issues including acne, eczema and others.

The increased moisture against your skin when wearing a mask can soften the outer layer of the skin, making it more susceptible to irritants. Also, the movement of a poorly fitted mask on your face can create micro-trauma, which can worsen a number of skin issues. The loops of the mask that go around your ears can create pressure or friction, which can also result in skin irritation and trauma. People can also have skin reactions or sensitivities to the material their mask is made out of.

The following are suggestions for reducing effects on your skin that might arise from wearing a mask:

  1. Make sure you wear a mask that fits correctly. If the mask is moving around on your face frequently during the day it can create trauma to the skin and cause worsen skin issues.  
  2. If you are wearing a mask made of fabric, make sure the layer against your face is made out of a soft and comfortable fabric, such as cotton.
  3. If you are wearing a cloth mask, make sure to wash it regularly so that it removes the oils/skin debris, which can aggravate skin problems. Make sure the mask is completely dry before wearing it.
  4. Skip the make-up. No one is going to see it under the mask anyway!
  5. Keep trying different types and styles of masks until you find one that fits well and is comfortable on both your face and your ears.

When you would advise someone to see their healthcare provider?

A: If skin issues are worsening and not responding to simple at-home remedies, such as moisturizing, make an appointment to be seen and have your skin issue evaluated my a medical professional.

For additional reading, the American Academy of Dermatology has produced some helpful education on preventing and managing skin issues during COVID-19.  

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