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Apart From Maskne, You Should Watch Out For Contact Dermatitis. Here's Why!

Dr. Kaycee Reyes gives us the lowdown on the causes, symptoms, and treatments of this allergic reaction

It’s been a year since we started living with COVID-19, which means it’s been a year of mask- and face shield-wearing for all of us. These days, you really can’t go around without these essentials. It has changed the way we live our day-to-day, including how we had to care for our skin after a whole day of wearing our masks. 

If you’re like us, you probably cycle through several types of masks a week. Whether it’s a practical surgical mask or a more stylish fabric one, there’s no denying it’s not the best for our skin. “Maskne” quickly became everyone’s biggest struggle, but there’s one more skin problem that you’re probably already dealing with yet because of continued mask use: contact dermatitis.

Here, we talk to in-demand dermatologist Dr. Kaycee Reyes of Luminisce to get the 101 on this condition—including what triggers it, how to spot it, and what to do if you have it.

It’s confirmed—you can get contact dermatitis from masks.

Scientifically speaking, “Contact dermatitis or contact eczema is a skin disorder that develops due to direct contact to an irritant, which can be acute or chronic,” says Dr. Kaycee. Simply put, it is an inflammation of the skin due to direct skin contact with a certain substance in the environment that can occur once or recur persistently. “Since masks are usually made of synthetic and elastic material, it may contain possible irritants that can trigger contact dermatitis. Much like acne, however, it isn’t infectious.

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There are two main types of contact dermatitis.

One is Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD) and the other is Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD). ICD develops when there is regular or prolonged contact with irritating substances, like detergent or fragrances, and the intensity of the reaction is proportional to your exposure.  

Meanwhile, ACD means our immune system has developed a hypersensitivity to an allergen such as certain chemicals. “If you don’t have a reaction now, it doesn’t mean you never will. It might appear in a later time. It has a genetic component,” Dr. Kaycee says.

Some people are more likely to develop contact dermatitis than others.

As previously discussed, it’s got a lot to do with genetics. “People who have a genetic predisposition to asthma, eczema, and hay fever are prone to develop this condition because, genetically, they don’t have the optimum skin barrier function. They would react faster and would be more sensitive to irritants and allergens,” Dr. Kaycee says. “It is also the most common occupational skin disease, often among health workers, cleaners, hairdressers, and food handlers to name a few.”

Besides your family’s health history, you can also consider age, although it is not a big factor. “Those who have Allergic Contact Dermatitis tended to be young, the mean age being 27.5 years old.” Although masks aren’t considered as a common irritant as fragrances or preservatives, it’s worth noting it can still cause this condition.

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Your symptoms may be different than others’.

Unlike acne, the symptoms of contact dermatitis is highly variable. “It may affect any part of the body and may form any shape,” Dr. Kaycee says. “But the most common symptom is itching of the skin.” In the acute phase, it can present as redness or blisters; while in the chronic phase, it may appear as dry, leathery skin.

The best way to ditch contact dermatitis is to identify your triggers.

In the case of masks, check what your skin is reacting to. “Try to get a mask made of cotton as a first layer for the skin,” Dr. Kaycee suggests. “The best is to layer a cotton mask [with a filter] for proper protection.” 

Besides the fabric, you should also consider what you wash it with. “Try to use a fragrance-free and dye-free detergent when you wash your mask,” she says. “Contact an allergist when it persists to rule out chemicals causing the skin irritation.” 

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Make necessary adjustments to avoid it!

If you think you’re dealing with contact dermatitis, remove identified irritant substances immediately. “Use a soap substitute wash because regular soap is drying,” Dr. Kaycee says. “Avoid wetting the affected area excessively, no more than 15 minutes in water.” For more severe cases, we can’t emphasize it enough: consult a dermatologist regarding the best treatment for you.

Emollients and moisturizers with ceramides are your saving grace.

For over-the-counter treatments, “These can serve as an extra skin barrier protection for the skin,” Dr. Kaycee shares. In other cases, you’ll need a dermatologist’s advice to get the right creams, ointments, even antihistamines to deal with contact dermatitis. “Some severe types may need oral medications such as steroids, antibiotics, and phototherapy.”

Overall, whether ICD or ACD, contact dermatitis is pretty manageable—especially if your primary trigger is mask use. The most important thing is to keep yourself and others safe!

Dr. Kaycee Reyes is the founder of Luminisce, a skin and laser institute with locations in Bonifacio Global City, The Podium, and Molito Lifestyle Center. Follow Dr. Kaycee on Instagram! For more information, visit Special thanks to Lana Johnson.

Lead photo by cottonbro from Pexels