What effects can wearing N95 respirators have on your skin?

Some of the images we were seeing everywhere a few months ago when the pandemic was in full mode, were of healthcare workers after a long day of work. In these photos, we could see doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers with marks, redness, and bruises on their faces, caused by the prolonged wear of N95 respirators, face shields, and all the other personal protective equipment (PPE) they had to use for protection.

The truth is, anyone who uses either disposable face masks or reusable ones can develop a wide range of skin issues. The term for acne caused by the use of face masks has been called “maskne”, but it’s just one of the mildest issues you can experience with face masks. Healthcare workers who work with tight-fitting N95 respirators for 8 to 12 hours can have very uncomfortable problems on their skin.

In this article, we’ll discuss what types of effects can N95 respirators have on the skin, and how you can avoid them.

Skin problems caused by N95 respirators

As we mentioned, the N95 respirator needs to be fitted very tightly to the skin for it to work well. This allows the mask to prevent leakages, making sure all the air that is inhaled is completely filtered by the mask. But, just like when you leave a tight hair tie on a wrist, or when sweatpants are too tight on the waist, these face masks will also leave some marks on the face skin.

If you add to the tight fit of these masks the long work hours, high levels of moisture from all the sweat of layers of PPE, and a whole lot of friction from the constant pressure on the skin, this makes the perfect formula for skin irritation. This leads to breakdown, bruising, and even discoloration, which we can see in the heart-breaking photos from the healthcare professionals that were taken at the beginning of the pandemic.

The good news is, according to dermatologists and experts, these are not long-term damages. As gory and shocking as these images may appear, it’s good to know these effects don’t cause any permanent scarring. All the discoloration and inflammation is limited to the most superficial layers of the skin, and can easily be corrected.

A more common and less serious problem that is experienced by the general public with reusable face masks or even disposable ones is the so-called “maskne”. The development of zits and acne from prolonged wear of face masks is a struggle suffered by a lot of people right now.

Some tips to make these effects more bearable

Of course, many healthcare workers, including nurses and doctors, have been searching for ways to prevent or to treat these uncomfortable side effects from wearing respirators all day long. Here are some of the best tips we found that have worked for real healthcare professionals:

  • Ice: some people have been icing their faces after long hospital shifts. According to some dermatology experts, ice masks can reduce and calm inflammation. Some alternatives include cold rolling skin.
  • Blister products: like blister balms or hydro-seal blister band-aids can help as well.
  • Skin-care regimens that include a gentle cleanser, calming serums, balms, and sunscreen.
  • Cold Vaseline or Aquaphor: if you keep these items in your fridge, they can soothe your face after a long shift.
  • For breakouts, products with azelaic acid, which is a natural treatment, can help prevent dark marks from acne. If these breakouts persist though, it’s good to have a consult with your dermatologist to evaluate the need for antibiotics.
  • Avoid: any exfoliating or peeling products, as the irritation and inflammation will be much worse and noticeable.

After all, the most important thing is to ensure the N95 respirator has a tight fit. So, any of the treatments or products we discussed should be used after wearing the mask and not while you’re wearing it. If you put anything between the skin and the mask, the activity of the respirator will decrease.

We know the effects are very uncomfortable, but they are not permanent, and protection against the virus is much more important. Hopefully, these tips can help you get through these issues more comfortably.

N95 respirators: why they’re important

N95 masks are considered to be the best for virus protection during the pandemic. They offer great antiviral safety and are being prioritized for healthcare workers and first responders. The general public is urged to use other products, like reusable cloth masks, to ensure those at higher risk of infection can be protected.

Some of the most popular brands include 3M N95 masks, like the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511 models. It’s always a good idea to purchase N95 masks from reputable brands, with NIOSH-approved products. NIOSH is an institution that regulates respirators in the United States and makes sure that they meet the filtration standards for use in the workplace inside the USA.

Even though wearing face masks can bring some side effects on your skin, these are not serious, and the benefits of wearing either surgical face masks or N95 respirators, as well as face shields, KN95 masks, or reusable masks, are far superior.

If you want to buy N95 masks in bulk or wholesale, or even in a smaller size for kids, there are many options for sale online. N95 respirators protect not only against the coronavirus, but also against dust, smoke, and the flu virus. 

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