Wearing a surgical face mask or face covering can have an affect on your skin due to friction and rubbing of the mask, along with a build-up of moisture from breathing.

Important information for staff:

  • health and social care staff please refer to the national Infection Prevention COVID-19 guidance for when you need to wear a surgical face mask
  • for non-health and social care staff please refer to GOV.UK COVID-19 work sector guidance

How to prevent skin irritation

To prevent this:

  • ensure your surgical face mask or face covering fits comfortably over your nose and mouth, and is secure to help limit rubbing
  • if wearing a surgical face mask for an extended period, ensure it is not more than 4 hours before changing
  • avoid wearing makeup or aftershave when wearing surgical face masks or face covering, or on affected areas when no mask is worn
  • use a light moisturiser in the morning, at break times and after work
  • stay well hydrated – take drinks little and often in COVID-19 safe areas
  • wear sunscreen and lip balm when exposed to the sun, in order to help protect your skin
  • have breaks from wearing a surgical face mask or face covering, at regular intervals, for example task rotation
  • take breaks in cool fresh air to help your skin cool down, breathe and dry
  • use a thicker moisturiser like Vaseline® behind your ears when using ear loop face masks
  • try working fewer consecutive shifts if possible
  • change your surgical face mask or face covering when wet, it starts to slip, or becomes difficult to breathe through

Managing symptoms and irritation to skin

Typically, you might get either or both of the following symptoms:

  • either skin irritation with redness, dryness, itching in the area where the surgical face mask or face covering covers the face and under the eyes
  • spots around your mouth and sometimes on the cheeks

If the reactions continue despite using the previous steps, you should:

  • take a photograph of the skin irritation on your face
  • contact your GP for more advice and consider a referral to the organisational Occupational Health Department where appropriate
  • Tell your manager or employer of any skin symptoms and diagnosed medical conditions. They can work with you to look at reasonable adjustments to your work, and can liaise with other departments where the particular type of surgical face mask or face covering worn appears to be problematic  
  • complete a Health and Safety incident report for any associated absences and/or diagnosed medical conditions