Wearing a protective face covering or mask is one of the key recommendations by health organizations, including the CDC, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As social distancing measures continue to relax, and people start returning to work, school, restaurants, stores, and other social situations, mask wearing is going to be a key element of protecting yourself—and others—from becoming infected with the incredibly contagious virus. However, while wearing your mask correctly can help protect the health of yourself and others, making one simple mistake can actually present some long-term health challenges.
Trauma Can Lead to Long-Term Damage
Henry Hsia, MD, a Yale Medicine plastic surgeon and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, explains that a mask worn too tightly can damage your health in the long run. “Any item worn tightly on the skin (like jewelry, footwear, underwear, etc.) for an extended period of time carries the potential to cause irritation and skin reactions that can result in minor skin trauma, which if not addressed and allowed to be constantly repeated on a frequent basis, can eventually lead to permanent damage,” he explains to Eat This, Not That! Health. “Masks are no different, especially if not properly worn.”
According to one study, published February in Journal of Wound Care, tightly fitting masks can cause pressure ulcers, a condition that can result in pain and infection. They also found that areas in the mask region where the bone is close to the skin—including the nose—are prone to additional damage.
New York and Florida cosmetic plastic surgeon Stephen T. Greenberg, MD, also issued a warning about serious, permanent damage to the face, nose, jawline, and skin, caused by increased pressure from mask wearing. “Ranging from infections and allergic reactions to permanent, premature wrinkling of the skin on the face, a mask worn improperly or for long-periods of time can cause adverse health conditions for the wearer,” he wrote.
Luckily, unless you are a frontline healthcare worker who is required to wear an N95 mask for several hours a day, these potential health issues are easily avoidable. “Wearing a mask in public generally doesn’t require the tight-fitting masks usually worn in hospitals, and so most people should not have to worry about a health risk from the mask itself,” Dr. Hsia points out.
How to Best Wear Your Mask
If you do feel the need to wear a tight-fitting mask for long periods of time, there are a few things you can do to avoid long-term health repercussions.
“Make sure the mask fits properly and comfortably, and take frequent breaks at least every hour or so where you can take the mask completely off your face to give your skin a break,” instructs Dr. Hsia. And, if you need to wear tight-fitting masks on a regular basis then you should inspect your skin regularly. “If you experience irritation or pain from wearing a mask, you should first check that it is properly fitted. If you still experience problems then you should consult a physician,” he adds.
Be careful out there—and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.