Irina Smirnova, professor of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Epidemiology and Dermatovenereology at St Petersburg University, told us how to choose a face mask and minimise the skin damage it could cause.

Just half a year ago masks used to be an attribute of healthcare personnel. However, today they have become a part of the general public’s everyday life. Despite the fact that many coronavirus restrictions have been lifted recently, wearing masks remains mandatory in public spaces and on public transport. ‘Although we still don’t know all the factors affecting the likelihood of transmission of the infection, it is clear that the disease spreads from person to person mainly through personal contact or respiratory droplets. This is why the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is considered most important in preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2,’ the doctor said.

People wear protective respiratory masks with valves or simpler surgical masks for many hours a day. Healthcare workers who wear respiratory masks daily are particularly at risk of adverse effects. ‘Friction and pressure most often cause skin lesions, ulcers and scars in the area of the bridge of the nose. According to some sources, such reactions are observed in 69% of specialists who work in the ‘‘red zone’’, especially among women. Furthermore, as a result of prolonged mask wearing there may be infectious skin diseases, acne, allergic and non-allergic contact dermatitis,’ Irina Smirnova said.

The use of personal protective equipment is considered an important measure in preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2

Irina Smirnova, professor of the Department of Infectious Diseases, Epidemiology and Dermatovenereology at St Petersburg University

According to the expert, although the general public rarely faces negative consequences of mask wearing, such cases do still occur. ‘Prolonged mask wearing leads to increased humidity and temperature inside the mask as well as intense face skin sebum production. Rubbing and pressing of the masks against skin can cause impairment of the skin barrier function and an inflammatory reaction. One of the most common consequences is hyperemia, acne and rosacea, rash, itching and burning.’ Some masks contain formaldehyde and other preservatives, that can cause allergic dermatitis of sensitive face skin, especially of allergy-prone people.

To help the skin cope with the adverse impact of masks, doctors suggest using silicone-based creams or moisturisers. ‘Such products do not seem to affect the performance of the device, but they significantly reduce the risk of unwanted affects caused by frictions and pressure,’ Irina Smirnova underlined. In order to support sensitive face skin during the pandemic, you can use gentle PH-neutral soap-free non-abrasive face cleansers. ‘It is important to avoid skincare that contain alcohol or other skin irritating ingredients. You should prefer so called sterile cosmetics — products without preservatives, parabens or perfume compounds,’ the dermatologist advised.