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Amid coronavirus outbreak, beware of skin problems due to wearing masks: Japan expert

Face masks (Getty)

TOKYO -- As the spread of the novel coronavirus continues, and the frequency with which people wear masks rises, an increasing number of individuals in Japan are complaining of skin problems such as reddening of the skin from chafing and acne. The problems are believed to stem from a mismatch between the materials from which the masks are made and one's skin type, and dermatologists are calling on people to practice caution.

A 43-year-old man who moved to Tokyo in late March realized that he had on his chin what looked like a red scar. Because he usually wore a mask out of concern for the coronavirus he had not thought much of it, but he eventually began to feel a sting from the scar. Since he had moved to Tokyo, where there are a large number of people infected with the coronavirus, he had reportedly been wearing his mask for longer periods of time than before.

According to Dr. Yuko Nomura, head of Nomura Dermatology Clinic in the Kanagawa Prefecture capital of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, during times when the flu is going around, patients who have developed skin problems through mask use visit her clinic. But even now in April, when the flu season usually ends, there's no apparent sign that the number of patients with skin problems caused by mask wearing is going down.

Many of the symptoms entail paper masks coming into contact with skin, making the skin feel scratchy, turning red, and eventually causing itchiness or pain. Nomura says there are cases in which a red outline can be left on the face in the shape of the mask. Other cases include increased pimples due to moist heat buildup inside the mask, and scars on the ears caused by the rubber bands on masks that are too small pressing against them. It turns out, however, that many of the patients do not realize that these symptoms are caused by their use of masks.

"Switch the shape of mask you use, or tuck in a thin piece of cotton into the inside of your mask," Nomura advises. Gauze is ideal, but handkerchiefs and cut up T-shirts are also acceptable. Even with fabric masks, those that fuzz up after laundering may irritate the skin, but as with paper masks, tucking in a soft piece of fabric inside will solve the problem. When using a mask that's a little too small for you, it is important to take steps such as stretching out the rubber bands before using.

Skin care is also effective. When there is stinging, use a little bit more than the usual amount of cream to moisturize. She advises that when you have acne, you should limit yourself to washing your face gently with face wash that is specifically for acne and using skin lotion that is also specifically for pimples. "The skin is a barometer of the body's health," Nomura says. "Getting sufficient nutrients and sleep and maintaining healthy skin leads to building a body that is strong against viruses."

(Japanese original by Hitomi Tanimoto, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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