Save Your Skin
Your skin is the first line of defence against organisms that cause disease. It is home to a microbiome made up of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi, says Dr Hetesh Pitamber, a dermatologist practising at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. “These play an important part in supporting skin health and maintaining this barrier, but unfortunately with the daily use of masks and hand sanitisers, this is constantly being disturbed. As a result, conditions such as contact dermatitis and eczema of the hands are becoming common as is ‘maskne’, or perioral dermatitis, which presents with little red bumps and peeling around the mouth. While wearing masks and practising regular hand hygiene are essential these days, this shouldn’t be at the cost of your skin health,” says Pitamber.
He offers some tips to help protect your skin.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with sufficient soap and clean running water for 20 seconds – this remains the gold standard for hand hygiene. It’s also gentler on your skin than sanitisers.
- Always use a sanitiser with at least 60 per cent alcohol concentration – anything less will not be effective – and rub all over your hands and wrists for 20 seconds. While hand sanitisers of the right composition can effectively kill most harmful pathogens, there are certain ones they don’t kill, such as Clostridium difficile and norovirus, so using soap and water is preferable.
- Moisturise your hands before and after using sanitiser. Constant sanitising can disrupt your skin’s barrier making you more prone to eczema, contact dermatitis and infections.
- Wear nonlatex powder-free gloves when you go out if you’re struggling with a skin condition on your hands, and apply sanitiser over the gloves. The gloves will protect and allow the skin barrier to repair.
- Wear a mask that’s breathable and fits comfortably. Constant friction against the skin can cause conditions such as frictional acne and perioral dermatitis. A soft cotton mask is a good choice – avoid nylon.
Reusable masks must be washed daily.
- Help your skin to breathe by only using light make-up such as noncomedogenic – or breathable – powders, or water-based solutions.
If you are struggling with any form of skin irritation, Pitamber advises consulting your GP or dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment, so that your skin can recover and the discomfort alleviated.