A friend of a friend recently visited the dermatologist to treat some unusually irritated skin near her chin and jawline. The diagnosis: A yeast infection ― yes, on her face ― potentially caused by the face mask she’d been wearing during the coronavirus pandemic.
But is this diagnosis correct? Could this possibly be something we have to worry about?
While a face mask can’t be the sole cause of a skin infection, the combination of summer heat, humidity and tight-fitting mask fabric could exacerbate underlying conditions that could worsen a fungal or bacterial infection.
A yeast infection, for example, is a fungal infection resulting from a yeast called candida. And since yeast lives naturally on our skin, a face mask could trigger
Dermatologist Dr. Susan Massick explained: “We already have yeast on our skin. A yeast infection could occur in the right setting, such as a warm, moist environment, but is often related to another factor (diabetes, compromised immune system, recent course of antibiotics, poor hygiene) that allows the yeast to grow unchecked.”
To help you practice better hygiene habits this summer, we tapped Massick and other board-certified dermatologists to break down all the ways you can keep facial irritations and infections to a minimum this summer.
Types Of Fungal Infections That Can Occur On The Face
Fungi that appear on the face can tend to vary in appearance, and can also be found on different areas of the face.
For starters, Massick explained that tinea faciei (ringworm of the face) will appear on the skin as a red ring with a sharp border and central clearing, while perleche (usually from candida yeast) will typically crack the corners of the lips, potentially growing into red papules and larger red patches.
The most common form of fungal infection on the face is seborrheic dermatitis, a chronic condition exacerbated by yeast on the skin. It can be found where you have higher numbers of sebaceous glands. “On the face, it particularly affects the creases of the nose, the eyebrows and in and around the ears,” Massick explained. “The rash is usually a red rash with a yellowish, greasy scale.”
Finally, there is pityrosporum folliculitis (also known as Malassezia), which according to Massick, is more commonly seen on the trunk. However, it can also be seen on the face, where it causes an inflammation of the hair follicles and looks like small, red, acne-like breakouts.
How A Mask Can Make Things Worse
Wearing a mask for many hours can increase your chances for infection and irritation, creating a favorable environment for yeast.
To avoid any facial irritation, dermatologist Dr. Peterson Pierre said it’s helpful to take breaks whenever you wear a mask.
“The more breaks you can give yourself from wearing a mask, the better,” he told HuffPost. “You will decrease heat, sweating, humidity, irritation, while also improving airflow, all of which should decrease your infection risk.”
People with underlying skin conditions (such as eczema) are more likely to develop irritation from their masks, according to Fisher. This in turn, predisposes them to skin infections, including bacteria and fungi.
“Although yeast infections favor areas of skin folds, yeast infections can occur on any part of the skin,” she said. “In fact, patients with certain immune conditions have been reported to develop generalized areas of infection.”
Among these medical conditions include diabetes and other skin conditions that are related to fungi that can be exacerbated by masks. These include seborrheic dermatitis and tinea versicolor, according to Massick.
Switch To Cotton Masks And Clean Your Masks Properly
Massick said swapping your mask for one made with cotton will decrease your chances of infection going forward.
“Occlusive materials are going to create a more hospitable environment for Candida and Malassezia, so masks made with 100% cotton material may be a more comfortable fabric choice to consider going forward,” she explained. “Cotton masks are also soft to the skin, are not rough or itchy, and are usually comfortable when breathing.”
Massick recommends keeping several different masks on hand to ensure you are wearing a clean one each time you leave the house.
“You can change out your masks more frequently in case the masks are getting damp,” she said.
And when it comes time to actually clean your mask, Fisher advised washing your masks with gentle detergent, as you won’t want to use heavily scented products that could potentially damage your mask.
“Avoiding harsh, fragranced detergents and fabric softeners will help to extend the life of the mask, and is less likely to cause irritation to the skin,” she said. “Detergents like All Free and Clear, or Tide Free and Gentle are some great product choices to look into, as they are safe for sensitive skin types to use.”
Fisher explained that products like Lotrimin cream can effectively treat yeast and fungal infections (yes, even on your face) and are relatively inexpensive.
Additionally, Massick said that anti-inflammatory washes that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are another great product to add to your routine, as they can help decrease oil production with each wash. This, in turn, keeps the skin clean, preventing any unwanted skin mishaps going forward.
And yes, it’s important to note there are some over-the-counter topical antifungals that can be used to treat rashes. However, Massic warned against using topical steroids, unless used at the direction of your doctor, as they can worsen existing fungal and yeast infections if used incorrectly.
Book a dermatologist appointment if your condition doesn’t improve.
If your rashes are not responding to any over-the-counter treatments, Fisher said it’s a good idea to book an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist, as you’ll need to rule out other potential causes behind your condition first.
“You should always seek a dermatologist’s evaluation, as it is common for rashes like eczema and seborrheic dermatitis to be mistaken as fungal infections,” she explained.
Similarly, if your rash gets worse, or becomes more red or irritable as time goes on, Massick advised going to your dermatologist’s office as soon as possible, especially if it has not improved in a few weeks’ time.
“Fungal infections of the skin are generally red, scaly, sometimes itchy and can gradually worsen if not treated,” she explained. “Seek evaluation with a board-certified dermatologist if any facial rash becomes worse, becomes more inflamed and itchy, or fails to resolve in four to six weeks.”
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