April 2, 2020

Facial hair and N95 masks: What you need to know

Masks are at the forefront of people’s minds as health care workers continue to face shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. Together with disinfection and hand-washing, N95 respirators have proven to reduce the infectious risk of COVID-19 in doctors and nurses.

N95 respirators are tight-fitting masks that filter out 95% of particles in the air and reduce exposure from small particle aerosols to large droplets.

Even people without facial hair can develop skin irritation after long periods of wearing an N95 mask. New York-based board certified dermatologist, Dr. Whitney Bowe explained that “abrasions from speaking, mechanical tensions and friction causing a breach in the skin barrier,” which can lead to infection.

The skin, the scalp and beard, all have a microbiome, Dr. Bowe explained.

“The microbiome is the healthy bacteria that is there, our tiny warriors,” she said. “We need to fight the bad bugs and do everything to preserve to the delicate balance of the good bugs.”

Dr. Bowe recommended gently washing the face with soap and water, patting dry, not rubbing, then applying a healing balm.

“I love medical grade honey — it is amazing for wound healing and natural. It goes through a special pasteurization process in the lab that kills off the bacteria. You can also use aloe, right from the plant, or cream or ointment. Yogurt, avocado, oatmeal, all very calming,” Bowe advised.