You can take precautions to protect yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic and still keep your skin and hair healthy. We talked to Susan Chon, M.D., about skin care, and issues to look for during this time.
Take care of your face – and your mask
Masks are essential to stopping the spread of COVID-19. But they can be hard on your skin, especially if you job requires you to wear one all day.
“Sweat, dirt and oil gets pushed onto and into the skin. This causes inflammation and acne, or maskne,” says Chon. “And if you already have a skin condition like eczema or rosacea, wearing a mask can cause a flareup.”
Chon says there are several ways to protect your skin while maintaining your mask habit.
1. Choose a comfortable mask. There are some situations, such as when you’re at MD Anderson, when you may need to wear a medical-grade face mask for added protection. But when you’re out in the community, it can help to mix things up and wear a mask with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric, which can give your skin a break while still ensuring adequate protection against the coronavirus.
“Two-ply, soft cotton masks are good because they are a lot less irritating, very breathable and washable,” Chon says. “You can wash off the oil, grime or makeup that accumulates during the day.”
2. Avoid makeup. “You don’t really need it under your mask. It just makes another layer that can irritate your skin and cause problems,” Chon explains.
3. Choose the right skin care regimen. A really good, mild skin care regimen is important. Chon says there are a lot of good, non-stripping cleansers, noting: “Acne products can be irritating and make the problem worse.”
4. Protect your ears. “Everyone’s face is different, but masks are one-size-fits-all. Some people who are bigger, I see the mask cutting into the back of their ear,” Chon says. Search for a face mask strap adjuster that can attach to the mask straps at the back of the head, so the mask does not touch your ears.
5. Manage stress. “Stress absolutely causes acne. It’s hormonal, but it’s also very stress-related,” says Chon. In addition to skin problems, stress can cause a condition called reactive alopecia, or hair loss.
“This year I’ve seen patients who I’ve known for years who have never had hair issues,” Chon says. “They’re showing their stress in patchy alopecia. It’s very mild, but noticeable to them.”
Managing stress starts with a mindset of being kind to yourself and moving your body. Simply taking a walk can improve your circulation, rest your mind and your eyes. It can even boost your productivity.
“Walking is health care. You don’t have to go out and run a marathon, but do something to move your body,” says Chon.
You can also try one of the many free apps that provide guided meditation, yoga, stretching or some moderate cardiovascular exercise. All of these activities can relieve stress.
“Try to find something that you feel comfortable with and that you feel good about,” says Chon. “You have to sleep well. You have to eat well. And you have to move.”
Be kind to your hands
Keeping your hands clean plays an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. But exposing your hands to soap or hand sanitizer several times a day can be hard on your skin.
Here’s what Chon recommends when caring for your hands.
1. Choose soap and water over hand sanitizer when you can. The alcohol in hand sanitizer strips the skin of protective oils. That can cause drying, cracks and even small fissures. “It is better to wash your hands with soap and water. It’s a little gentler and it’s very effective,” Chon says. You don’t need a heavy-duty soap with detergent. Regular hand soaps are fine.
2. Rinse well. Thoroughly rinse off all traces of soap. Don’t forget to take off your rings, rinse the rings and the area underneath.
3. Moisturize. “Keep moisturizer by the sink so you don’t forget,” Chon says.
Give your eyes a break
Too much computer time can take a real toll on your eyes.
When people look at a computer, they tend to not blink fully, so they don’t put the pressure on their eyelids that releases the oil that lubricates their eyes. That can result in dry eyes and even vision changes over time.
The best thing you can do for your eyes is take a break. Every 20 minutes or so, look away from the screen and blink. Change your focus, look away. And don’t skip your routine eye exams.
“Taking care of your eyes is really important,” says Chon. “Your eye doctor can help with dry eyes, making sure your vision is OK and your prescription is up-to-date.”
No matter what the problem, Chon says it’s important to seek care.
“If you have questions, talk to a specialist. Your doctor can speak to your specific circumstances,” says Chon.