The Coronaviris Pandemic has been adding stress to all our lives.  Within a few short months the world has been shocked into a new reality, with millions of cases leading to hundreds of thousands of deadly outcomes.  But even those of us fortunate enough to have (so far) avoided the direct effects of the virus, the pandemic has given us other health issues to consider.  Today we will review one of the dermatological effects that my patients are noticing.

Acne Mechanica is the technical term for acne on the skin caused by friction or constriction from inanimate objects.  Examples include sports equipment like helmets, chin straps, and shoulder pads.  Hikers can get this from back pack straps, and anyone needling crutches might get an acne rash from the rubber padding against the armpit.

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The newest example of acne mechanica is from wearing face masks, now an important feature of our pandemic defense.  Dermatologists are calling the condition “maskne”, or acne from masks.  If this is something you have been dealing with, here are some tips:

face mask
  1. If you have a cotton mask, make sure you wash it daily.  Use unscented eco-friendly soaps, not harsh detergents.  Otherwise a residue of detergent can dissolve the skin’s natural barrier of oils.
  2. If you use a paper mask, change it frequently.  If it looks clean, you can leave it out to dry for a few days between uses.  If you sneeze or cough, or have a runny nose, change to a new mask more than once a day. 
  3. If you are wearing a tight fitting N95 mask, try applying silicone gel strips at the pressure points.
  4. If the mask does not fit comfortably, consider modifying the straps.  Patients of mine with larger craniums often find it easier to cut the straps and lengthen them with extra string or fabric.  Some of my patients with smaller craniums find the straps too long, and use clips to shorten them.  Innovative new designs are imitating the “gator” that skiers wear in cold weather; worn around the neck, they can be pulled up to cover the nose and mouth when needed.  Many offer good protection from droplet penetration.  Bandannas or scarves can also be used as an effective option.   Whatever you use, make sure it covers your nose and mouth!
  5. If you are not sure if you need a mask when closer than 6 feet from anyone, remember that the mask is not just to be used if you are feeling sick; it is to be used to KEEP you from getting sick.  Not only will a mask protect others from the water droplets expelled during a cough or sneeze (hence the use of handkerchiefs or tissues to cover your mouth), but it will stop the droplets that are expelled by simply speaking or breathing.  These water droplets can linger up to 14 minutes in the air, meaning that if you get into an empty elevator or washroom you might be inhaling the virus from an asymptomatic-yet-infected person who did NOT wear a mask.  And remember, that asymptomatic person could be you!
  6. Be sure to attend to your facial skin care routine, cleansing and moisturizing at the beginning and end of each day.
  7. Keep a spare mask in your car, pocket, or purse.  Don’t make excuses, just wear the mask when in public, for as long as our pandemic scientists are recommending it.  They do work to protect others, and to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed with covid virus cases.  Masks may be a nuisance, but so is a ventilator. 
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