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Multiple reports of acne “maskne”, chelitis, dry eye and styes have been reported since mask mandates occurred this Spring.

As masks provide a barrier against respiratory droplets, they can also, however, pose problematic for surrounding skin and eyes.

N95 masks, for example, are made of non-woven polypropylene fibers which can increase sweating and cause skin breakdown.

Acne develops when the oily sebum and dead skin cells clog up pores. Inflammation and bacteria can worsen breakouts. Masks may cause prevention of ventilation and increase in moisture buildup, predisposing one to more “maskne”.

Cheilitis is a condition that affects the perioral area and often times involves the creases of the mouth. It can occur when mouth secretions are not wiped away, breaking down the skin and allowing for bacteria or fungi to settle in and grow.

Dry eyes can occur as people breathe through their nose and the air is shunted upward towards their nasal bridge, blowing directly into their eyes. Many have noticed they fog up their glasses while wearing their mask. Dry eyes can be painful, irritating and lead to vision issues if not treated early.

Styes have been reported at increasing rates. Some believe the bacteria from the nose, mouth, or face is travelling up to the eyes during mask breathing and settling into the hair follicle or oil glands of the eye lid.

While all of the above skin and “mask eye” maladies are treatable, there are some things we can do to prevent them.

  1. Get a properly fitted mask. Masks that are too small can cause chafing, resulting in skin breakdown.
  2. Wash your face regularly to clean off any dried sweat and skin debris.
  3. Adjust your mask such that you are not blowing air into your eyes
  4. Discuss with your employer the possibility of taking frequent small breaks outside to allow your face to ventilate.
  5. If sweating under your mask, change the mask more frequently.
  6. If you are a contact lens wearer, use eye rewetting drops to keep your eyes moist and lubricated. Artificial tears can help those who don’t wear contacts and experience dry eye.

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP