We've all seen the photos - HCW with sores, skin tears, and indentations on their face from wearing PPE for hours; some up to 13+ hours for a shift! Over 97% of our HCW on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 will experience skin issues. Among those wearing N95 masks, 60% reported an increase in acne, 36% reported a rash, and 51% reported itch or dermatitis. These effects increase the wearer's risk for infection.
Recent studies show this complication can result in:
Decreased morale in an already distressed HCW
Increased risk for developing infections of the skin (bacteria, fungal, viral) from poor barrier function and open sores
Damaged skin may not allow for masks to seal properly, therefore increased exposure to COVID-19 particles
Here's how to help:
- Apply strips of Duoderm on areas of PPE contact act as a barrier between the mask and skin, reducing friction and preventing further skin breakdown. CAUTION: if not used properly, it may decrease how well the masks seals
- Use petroleum jelly (i.e. Vaseline) or zinc oxide barrier paste in areas of mask contact. Lubrication effects reduce friction while occlusive nature prevents water loss (important for maintaining a healthy skin barrier)
- As soon as the shift is over, apply an occlusive agent to the skin to help repair, rehydrate, and protect the compromised skin barrier Brand favorites are Stratamed or Biafine, but Aquaphor or Vaseline work well too!
- Be extra gentle to your facial skin at this time. Avoid all irritating agents or creams, such as retinoids, hydroxy acids, or scrubs. Clean with gentle face wash and use non-comedogenic moisturizing creams to the entire face.
- Arnica and bromelain supplements may help mitigate bruising.
- Be aware of potential allergic reactions from masks, which should be treated differently. Potential allergens include glue or metal, like nickel. Topical steroids can help!
While these creative solutions should improve skin conditions, care must still be taken to avoid permanent damage. If any problems persist, visit your certified Dermatologist.
For more information, be sure to follow Dr. Zubritsky-Pollock @dermguru.