Skin allergies from wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer

We all know that wearing masks and using hand sanitizer will continue to be a part of everyday living as we move into an endemic state. As these items come into frequent daily use, some of us might experience downsides of skin allergies and irritation.

Popularly called maskne (mask acne), many people face this skin problem due to prolonged mask usage. We’ve listed down the common symptoms of mask and sanitizer-led allergy and the treatments that can come to your rescue.

Signs and symptoms of mask allergy

Allergic skin reactions to wearing a mask may present themselves as the following symptoms:

  1. Persistent acne on your cheeks, nose, or chin: Popularly known as maskne, it usually occurs due to the humidity under the face mask.
  2. Persistent red rash on cheeks: The itchy rash usually can occur everywhere the mask touches your skin but is more prevalent on your cheeks.
  3. Eczema: While masks don’t cause this problem, the symptoms are sometimes compounded for people with existing skin problems or eczema.

Management for maskne

If you have a skin allergy to masks, you can follow the tips given below:

  1. Skincare routine: Though maskne is not always related to acne, it is recommended to follow a gentle skincare routine with mild soaps and water. Consider skipping make-up that may clog your pores and lead to breakouts. If you have developed skin problems from wearing a mask, you may want to skip going through your usual skincare regime and get in touch with a dermatologist for a targeted solution1.
  2. Hygiene: Masks not only absorb your breath but also the sweat and oils produced by your skin. Without proper hygiene, these can be the centre of bacterial growth, which could lead to skin allergy. Thus, maintaining proper hygiene at all times is crucial. This could include washing your face often and using clean towels to wipe off sweat at regular intervals1.
  3. Keep your mask(s) clean: it is also recommended to replace your masks regularly. Replace single-use masks as soon as they become damp, regardless of how long you’ve worn them. N95 masks should also be discarded immediately after one-time use. Other than this, make sure that your reusable masks are washed and sun-dried daily2.
  4. Inspect fitting and material: Skin allergy may not always be due to wearing masks. It can also be an allergic skin reaction to the material or fitting of the mask. Tight masks or those made out of blended fibres that don’t suit your skin may lead to rashes that look like allergic reactions. Choosing a breathable fabric is recommended1.
  5. Management: If you notice a skin allergy or skin rash, antihistamines like Clarityne® may help to relieve the itching and redness. However, should symptoms persist, do consult your healthcare professional.

What are the management options for sanitizer-led skin allergy

If you are allergic to hand sanitizer, you can follow the steps given below to avoid inflammation from taking place:

  1. Washing and cleaning: If you notice severe allergy symptoms like persistent skin rashes, the first thing to do is wash the area with water and soap. It is recommended to use a mild soap that is tried and tested by you and wash only with cold water3.
  2. Dipping or cool compress: You can also use a cold compress to ease the inflammation in the affected area3.
  3. Allergy medication: You could also consider using an oral antihistamine like Clarityne® to help relieve the itchy skin rash.
  4. Moisturising: Lack of moisture could also be one of the reasons for your dry, itchy skin. Use a gentle moisturiser to hydrate your skin.

How to avoid this skin allergy in the long run?

If you notice a recurring skin allergy due to regular usage of a hand sanitizer, it is recommended to switch to a different brand of sanitizer. Alternatively, you can also use hand soaps and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds on each side, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO)4.

What can be done about vaccine-led skin allergy?

Vaccine irritation or swelling develops at the vaccination site anywhere between a few days to a week after you receive a dose. This symptom often settles by itself within a few days after appearing. According to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), the most commonly reported adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccines among Singaporeans is rashes. Other effects reported also include hives ( urticaria ) and itchy skin. If you notice skin irritation, rashes, or skin allergy and if it persists beyond two days, it is recommended to visit a doctor⁵.

Keeping safe in “the new normal” is of paramount importance. Using face masks and hand sanitizers are inevitably part of our lives as we move into a state of endemicity, therefore it’s imperative that we make it seamless for us and our loved ones to remain protected at all times.