5 Tips for Wearing a Mask without Irritating Your Psoriasis
Wearing a face mask is required in many public places these days, and it’s a good idea to don one to protect yourself and others. But what do you do if that little piece of essential protection is irritating sensitive areas of your face, scalp, and ears, causing flare-ups or extra discomfort on your already stressed skin?
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“The current pandemic is certainly enough to raise stress levels in just about anyone,” says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City and author of Skin Rules. “Stress is a well-known trigger for psoriasis. Couple that with the masks being looped behind the ears, which is a hot spot for flare-ups, and you’ve got a recipe for irritation.”
But there are some things you can do to cut down on irritation and to make mask-wearing more comfortable.
Lose the Loops
Those elastic bands that loop behind the ears are a common culprit when it comes to mask-based irritation.
“The friction the elastic loops cause is even worse for people with psoriasis, because they are already starting out with irritated skin,” explains Jaliman.
To cut down on friction, Jaliman suggests opting for a mask that ties behind the head, like the Washable & Reusable Denali 3-Layer Protective Face Mask, or one that has adjustable straps, like the Los Angeles Apparel Facemask3.
You may want to shop around for a mask made of fabric that’ll be gentle on skin. For example, the Skineez Medical Grade Hydrating Skin-Reparative Cloth Mask, which is made of supersoft fabric that actually contains moisturizers. It has ear loops that are made of the same material, not scratchy elastic.
Find the Right Fit
You may know that trauma to the skin can cause psoriasis to appear (what’s known as the Koebner phenomenon), and an ill-fitting mask worn often enough could cause such trauma.
“Psoriasis on the face is highly reactive because the face contains the greatest number of immune cells in the human body,” explains Eva Simmons-O’Brien, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.
Simmons-O’Brien stresses that a well-fitting mask is imperative to keeping friction from causing trauma, and thus, a new flare. “Look for masks that come in different sizes, and make sure they completely cover your nose up to the nasal bridge and extend to your jawline, fitting comfortably over your chin,” she suggests.
Ashley Magovern, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Manhattan Beach, California, and the founder of Project Sunscreen, suggests checking that your mask fits snugly, but not too tight. If you continue to have issues, a thin layer of petroleum jelly can be applied where the mask borders the face, to add a barrier of friction protection.
Beat the Heat
Changes in humidity levels can also trigger flare-ups, says Magovern, which presents an issue for people in hot climates or those who are following mask mandates while working out. “Extremes in moisture fluctuations can trigger the yeast that causes inflammation,” she explains.
If you’re spending time in the heat or wearing a mask for long periods of time, Simmons-O’Brien suggests toting a bottle of witch hazel or a package of facial wipes along with you. You can blot your face clean before reapplying your mask, to help prevent the overgrowth of yeast.
Taking off your mask from time to time (when you can do so safely) can also help. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a quick 15-minute “mask break” every four hours—a successful formula for frontline workers. You can also look for an antimicrobial mask like the Under Armour UA Sportsmask, which is made specifically for people who sweat.
Keeping the skin from drying out in the first place is key to keeping psoriasis in check, so doctors recommend staying hydrated with eight glasses of water a day and using a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom at night.
Jaliman also advises moisturizing twice a day with a cream that contains ceramides and oats, and don’t forget to apply it behind the ears too. Ceramides protect the barrier of the skin, and also lock in moisture, while the oat is calming and soothing.
It’s a Wash
Keeping that skin barrier soft and supple with moisturizer is important, but so is not overwashing your face. Magovern says scrubbing your skin can cause even more trauma to sensitive areas, so keep your washing regimen gentle and light. A mild, fragrance-free cleanser twice a day is all you need.
And don’t forget to wash your mask, too! Regular washing in hot water with a gentle hypoallergenic detergent can prevent bacteria, dirt, and oils from building up and irritating sensitive skin.
Continue to stay on the psoriasis care plan your doctor has advised for you, and contact them if anything new or concerning arises.