Skin Protection for Frequent Handwashing and Use of Face Masks
Sat, January 28, 2023

Skin Protection for Frequent Handwashing and Use of Face Masks


Proper handwashing remains the best line of defense against COVID-19 and other communicable diseases, including influenza. However, there are many sufferers of skin allergies and sensitive skin. A dermatologist provided tips to help reduce the chance of skin irritation from frequent handwashing and the use of face masks.

The tips for reducing the odds of skin irritation from preventive measures for COVID-19 were revealed by a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic, an American not-for-profit medical center. Their suggestions included the use of products with hypoallergenic components. By using these components, a person with sensitive skin or skin allergy could dodge potential allergens.

COVID-19 Preventive Tips for People with Sensitive Skin

In this pandemic, proper handwashing, social distancing, and face masks are the standard methods to evade SARS-CoV-2, the virus of COVID-19. While for most people, face masks and frequent handwashing are not troublesome, some can experience skin irritation because they have a skin condition or sensitive skin. The irritation can be in various forms, such as itchy rashes and scaly skin. If left unaddressed, the irritation may lead to bacterial infection, which adds another burden for affected individuals.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to asthma and other allergic diseases, millions of people in the US have skin allergies including eczema, hives, contact allergies, and skin inflammation. In 2015, the estimated number of children with skin allergies was 8.8 million and, based on available data, children aged four years and younger were likely to develop skin allergies. One of the notable causes of allergies in children is peanuts, but the overall number of children in the US allergic to certain foods in 2015 was 4.2 million.

At the Mayo Clinic, an inquiry regarding frequent handwashing and cracked skin was posted. The inquiry detailed that their skin suffers from dryness, which led to the cracks, and they're concerned about the use of face masks in public. They asked the center to provide special guidelines for skin protection integrated into the preventive measures of COVID-19. Dr. Dawn Davis, a dermatologist at the center, highlighted the special guidelines anyone with sensitive skin or skin allergies could follow.



First, Dr. Davis explained that frequent handwashing or application of hand sanitizers and similar disinfectants could increase the likelihood of skin irritation, especially among patients with eczema or people prone to contact dermatitis. To limit skin irritation, modifications in daily tasks must be done to lower the exposure of the skin to irritants. For example, when preparing for food or washing dishes, the use of gloves could protect the skin.

Second, proper handwashing for those with sensitive skin or skin allergies should be done using warm or cool water and hypoallergenic soap. To know if the bar soap is hypoallergenic, smell its scent. Unscented soaps are often considered hypoallergenic because they lack perfumes or other extra ingredients. Although hypoallergenic soaps are designed not to trigger skin reactions, there are some who may react to certain products. As such, the hypoallergenic factor differs from one person to another.

Third, after washing hands, pat them dry and never rub them. The rubbing could irritate the skin. Applying a moisturizer should be considered as well. Lotion, cream, and ointment are the most common forms of moisturizers, wherein lotion is the weakest of the three. Ointments are the best because they have the highest rate of preventing moisture loss on the skin. During the day, application of any of the three may be impossible but in the night, before bedtime, consider applying a generous amount and cover them with cotton gloves.

Fourth, for the constant use of face masks, the best material to prevent skin irritation is cotton. If the person has naturally-sensitive skin, the mask must only be washed with detergent free of fragrance and other irritants. They also have to apply moisturizer over their face before and after wearing the mask. But they need to avoid ointment-based moisturizer to prevent trapping oil and sweat. If certain areas of the faces have been irritated, a thick layer of zinc oxide could help soothe them.

And fifth, prepare a wet dressing in case moisturizing fails to soothe the hands. The wet dressing requires one teaspoon of white vinegar mixed to a glass of warm water. Soak two clean washcloths in the mixture. After applying the most effective moisturizer available, wring the washcloths and wrap them around the hands. Cover them with dry cotton socks. The mixture increases skin moisture and restores the pH level, while the socks elevate heat to allow more of the moisturizer to get into the pores.



Pediatric Cases of Allergies in the US

The recommendations from Dr. Davis seem to be nitpicky for some while troublesome for others. But the simple tips can actually reduce their odds of going to a local hospital. This is because overly irritated skin may require direct intervention from a dermatologist, who will be concerned about the welfare of the patient visiting a high-risk area. As much as possible, doctors do not allow anyone to visit clinics and hospitals whose concerns may be addressed at home. The idea limits contracting COVID-19 from these facilities.

The tips are practical for children and adults who have skin reactions to particular allergens. According to the 2018 National Health Interview Survey of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a US agency, many children younger than 18 years suffered allergies in the past 12 months. About 7.2% had hay fever, 9.6% had respiratory allergies, 6.5% had food allergies, and 12.6% had skin allergies. Skin allergies were the most common among the four main allergy categories, in which the percentages were 14.3% in children aged zero to four years, 12.3% in aged 5 to 11 years, and 11.4% in aged 12 to 17 years. Also, the cases of allergies were spread almost evenly across socioeconomic levels. About 14% of pediatric cases were from poor households, 13% were from almost poor households, and 12.1% were from richer households.

Right now, people with sensitive skin must be extra careful. They need to avoid irritating their skin to save them a trip to a dermatologist. Aside from lowering exposure to COVID-19, protecting their skin also averts unnecessary expenses from skin medications.