Will reusing your N95 mask cause acne?

The N95 mask has turned into a daily essential not just for healthcare staff and those in the industrial sector, but also for regular citizens that want maximum protection from SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens that may cause diseases.

An N95 mask is indeed a good choice for protection from COVID-19. Let’s take a closer look at what an N95 mask is and why it’s preferred by many.

The N95 mask

An N95 mask is a type of personal protective device that covers the mouth and nose. An N95 mask reduces the user’s risk of breathing in airborne particles, gases, and vapors. The N95 mask is certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 

An N95 mask has better filtering efficiency than a surgical or cloth mask. It removes airborne particles breathed through it. An N95 mask filters out at least 95 percent of tiny particles, down to 0.3 microns in diameter. An N95 mask filters out all kinds of particles, including bacteria and viruses.

What makes an N95 mask different from other types of face masks?

N95 masks minimize the user’s exposure to airborne particles, from tiny aerosols to large droplets. They are tight-fitting and provide a good facial seal. 

Workers are required by United States regulations to undergo a fit test annually and perform a seal check every time an N95 mask is used. A fit test ensures that the N95 mask has a good facial seal and is, therefore, safe to be used in the workplace.

When an N95 mask is worn and fitted properly, there is minimal leakage around its edges every time a wearer inhales. This means that almost all the air inhaled by the user goes straight to the N95 mask’s filter medium.

On the other hand, a surgical mask has a loose fit and only serves as a barrier against large droplets. Fit testing and seal checks are not necessary with surgical and cloth masks. Most face masks could not filter tiny airborne particles. Furthermore, leakage may occur around the edges when a person breathes in.

The role of a regular face mask is to control the source of infection and prevent contamination of surrounding areas whenever an infected person coughs or sneezes. Someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should wear a surgical mask until they are properly isolated. Once isolated, a face mask is no longer needed. The carer will then have to use an N95 mask for protection from the virus.

Reusing N95 masks

N95 masks are disposable devices and should be discarded after use. However, the shortage of N95 masks has caused healthcare staff and even ordinary citizens to reuse their N95 masks. 

Facilities with proper decontamination equipment are now permitted to disinfect N95 masks and allow workers to reuse their N95 masks. However, it is still ideal to dispose of an N95 mask after one use.

Will reusing an N95 mask cause acne?

Wearing an N95 mask regularly could lead to acne and other skin irritations. Reusing an N95 mask may further aggravate the problem. 

Acne breakouts may occur on the lower part of the face when an N95 mask is worn for long periods of time. It is characterized by skin irritation from excess pressure and constant rubbing against facial skin.

How to prevent acne caused by N95 masks

  1. Do not reuse your N95 mask if your facility does not have decontamination equipment. Your used N95 mask could be a breeding ground for harmful organisms, so it is best to discard your N95 mask after use. 
  2. Choose skincare products that are gentle to your skin. You don’t need fancy or expensive skincare products. Go with gentle, non-oily, fragrance-free cleansers instead. Avoid wearing makeup when using an N95 mask to let your skin breathe.
  3. Wash your face gently before and after using an N95 mask. Use your fingers to clean your skin and don’t rub it with a cloth. Apply sunscreen or moisturizer and wait for 15 minutes before putting on an N95 mask. Choose a product with zinc as it is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help prevent acne.
  4. Use only essential skincare products in the meantime. If you are used to an extensive skincare regimen, you’ll have to trim it down a bit and focus on the necessary. Putting too many ingredients on your skin increases the risk of irritation. Given that an N95 mask may irritate your skin, it is best to let the inflammation subside and give your face time to recover before using additional products.

Treating acne caused by wearing N95 masks

You can treat acne with benzoyl peroxide, an over-the-counter topical medication that reduces inflammation exfoliates dead skin cells, and kills bacteria that cause acne. Choose a product that has 2.5 to 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. A product with more than 5 percent of benzoyl peroxide may cause additional irritation and isn’t more effective than others.

Try using a hydrocolloid pimple patch. Excess fluid is absorbed by the patch, protecting you from further irritation. It may be worn under your N95 mask to prevent rubbing between the pimple and mask.

Reusing your N95 mask is not ideal especially if you are prone to acne or have experienced breakouts from wearing one. A used N95 mask may harbor bacteria and worsen breakouts. If your facility has decontamination equipment to disinfect your N95 mask, be sure to practice proper hygiene and adopt a skincare regimen that prevents acne.

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