How to care for your skin in hot temps with that mask on your face

Coronavirus: Texas nurse creates homemade mask that is as effective as N95
Coronavirus: Texas nurse creates homemade mask that is as effective as N95

Some of the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on nurses is invisible. But your skin, especially where you wear a mask seemingly 24/7, can't hide the damage.

You probably already have the extra chafing to contend with. One nurse, Gwen, told CNN Underscored she likes to call this chafing "hero wounds," also known as the skin irritations at the points where your mask molds against your face.

The summer heat can exaggerate all these reactions, whether you’re masking up at work or on your own time. “Skin irritations from rubbing, friction and pressure are likely to be exacerbated by sweat, which can make the skin more vulnerable to irritation similar to chafing in the summer,” New York dermatologist Dr. Hadley King told CNN Underscored.

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Dermatologist and Lancer Skincare Founder Dr. Harold Lancer also warned of a summertime moisture change in facial skin. “Besides irritations and reactions to mask materials, the heat factor will cause a moisture change in the skin that is covered by the mask,” he explained in CNN-U. “This can lead to problems in pore structure and congestion, blemishes and excessive oil retention, which may lead to yeast overgrowth and a worsening of rosacea.” Also expect something that’s akin to heat rash.

And there’s no denying stress takes its toll, and nursing is all about stress right now. “The brain and skin are intimately connected,” New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. told Better Homes and Gardens. “The way our bodies naturally respond to stress is meant to be a defense mechanism, but that response can have negative effects on our skin.” 

Essentially, your body produces more of the hormone cortisol under duress, which results in breakouts, BHG added. Cortisol can also “weaken your skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to moisture loss and outside irritants, plus cause inflammation,” it said.

Your skin's reaction to this summer's heat, combined with wearing a mask all shift long, may seem like just another frustrating annoyance. But this is one hazard of working as a nurse during COVID that you can actually do something about.

Even if you're not super concerned about how your skin looks, minimizing the skincare woes created by the heat, mask and stress may help you keep your energy up and reduce the inevitable pain of wearing PPE. And nurses are so important to their families and the patient base that if there's something you can do to make life easier, why not?

How can you care for your skin in the blistering heat when you wear a mask almost constantly? Dermatologists shared these tips:

Wash your face before and after. “Polishing, cleansing and nourishing the skin daily will ensure skin barrier maintenance and repair,” Lancer added. “Normal cleansing is important at this time, as it removes natural debris, but the antibacterial component creates an added barrier of safety. Make sure to have a post-cleansing thorough rinse.”

Use a patch to heal blemishes more quickly. “When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to pick at blemishes,” Zeichner, who is director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, added.

It may seem like you have your face covered all the time, but those pimples you’ve picked tell a different story. Willpower is overrated in this situation, especially when putting your fingers on your face is a subconscious action. It’s far better to use a stick-on patch instead, like the Alba Botanica Acnedote Pimple Patches available from Target.

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Treat light abrasions or cuts with healing ointment. If your mask comes off and you spot small cuts or abrasions, wash “the area with a gentle cleanser and water, followed by an ointment to help the skin heal,” King added. Aquaphor Healing Ointment is one good choice. 

Prevent oily-skin breakouts with special cleansers. "Switching your face wash can be a simple and effective way to manage oily skin," BHG noted. 

Look for cleansers with salicylic acid, noted for being able to disband oil that accumulates on your face. It’s also an “excellent comedolytic, or pore-clearing, ingredient because it exfoliates the stratum corneum (the surface of the skin) and penetrates pores to remove sebum,” King explained. “This helps to prevent pores from becoming clogged and can help remove clogs that have already formed.”

Consider gel moisturizer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, when you have oily skin or the weather is hot and humid, you can prevent breakouts by selecting a gel moisturizer for skin that will be covered by a mask. 

Skip makeup beneath the mask. "Beneath a mask, makeup is more likely to clog your pores and lead to breakouts," AAD warned. "If makeup is necessary, use only products labeled 'non-comedogenic' or 'oil free.'"

Create a routine and stick with it. Try to think of caring for your skin in the heat and during stressful times as a nice thing you do for yourself, not a chore. The comfort and appeal of skin that's not inflamed, breaking out, or drying up are so beneficial to nurses during a pandemic.

“You may not be able to control the stressful environment around you, but you can control your skincare routine,” Zeichner added. “Protect your skin in the morning with antioxidants and sunscreen, and repair it in the evening with moisturizers and collagen stimulators like retinol or glycolic acid.”