Full-time mask-wearing brings its own set of problems


CW / Tomia Teague

Lindsey Wilkinson | @lululindsey11, Contributing Writer

At this point in the ongoing pandemic era, most know that wearing a cloth covering protects the wearer and the people around them from respiratory droplets that come from talking, coughing or sneezing. However, engaging in improper mask hygiene practices can lead to other health issues far less documented or discussed than COVID-19. 

One issue that arises from lax mask washing is breakouts.

“When you are breathing out in a mask, the bacteria from your mouth gets trapped,” Miranda Mellos, a registered nurse in a level 2 trauma center emergency department in Montgomery, said.

Mellos also warned that this bacteria irritates the skin and that “the only way to combat this is to make sure you change your masks out frequently and wash your masks frequently as well.”

Novant Health recommends that maskne – a term coined for breakouts caused by a mask’s hot, humid environment – can also be prevented by avoiding fabric softeners or harsh detergents. A major ingredient in most fabric softeners is quaternary ammonium compounds, which fight against static but have also been found to cause skin and respiratory irritation, according to a study done by the NYU School of Medicine. 

If maskne is not enough to make you rethink your attention to mask hygiene, then consider ‘mask mouth’ –  whose symptoms can include bad breath, tooth decay and gum inflammation. Mark Fisher, a dentist practicing in Georgia, said some people tend to breathe through their mouths when they wear masks.

“When you breathe through your mouth, it dries your mouth out,” Fisher said. “Without the humidity from the air, it worsens this condition. Dry mouth leads to bad breath, and it is also linked to tooth decay and inflammation of the gums.”

People who are most at risk are those who wear masks for extended periods of time. Fisher reinforced the need to prevent this condition. 

“You need to try not to breathe through your mouth, stay hydrated, [practice] good oral hygiene and do not eat mints or sugary gum,” he said.  “The worst way to cope with it is to eat sugary mints and gum. That’s where people will get in trouble because those exacerbate the problem by causing decay around the gum line.”

Candida Overgrowth is another perpetrator that reveals itself by leaving the skin raw, red, irritated, chapped, or rashy according to Everyday Health. Candida Overgrowth is basically a yeast infection on your mouth. This infection cannot solely be caused by wearing a mask, but the conditions a mask provides is perfect for the infection to grow. 

There are other, more coronavirus-related reasons why it’s crucial to keep your mask clean. For instance, when wearing a mask, one ought to avoid adjusting it. The Moffitt Cancer Center stresses the importance of taking precautions. “If your mask touches another part of your body that is potentially contaminated with the virus… you are at risk for infection,” according to the center. It’s a simple rule that can go a long way to keeping campus safe, but it may require breaking old habits.

Another basic addition to your mask-wearing routine can be a new increased awareness when removing the mask. The CDC offers some precautionary steps: “Grasp the bottom ties or elastics of the mask, then the ones at the top and remove.” The CDC also advises mask wearers not to touch the front of the cloth covering due to it being directly contaminated. Following these simple steps will keep the virus on the front of your mask and not on your hands.

Keeping your mask clean can be as easy as 1-2-3. CDC encourages people to simply put their masks in with their laundry. Yolanda Enrich, a family nurse practitioner at Novant Health Adult Primary Care Waughtown, in an article published by Novant Health explained that “bacteria can form on moist surfaces and that is why the mask should be washed after each use.” The bacteria referenced by Enrich is the same bacteria that causes maskne.

While improper mask-wearing and hygiene can cause quite a disruption to your health, self-imposed prevention measures can protect you and the people around you from harm caused by the virus. Julia Irvin, a senior majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship, is one of many students at the University who found a new hobby over quarantine: mask-making.

“My mom is high risk,” Irvin said. “So, I wanted to take extra precautions. I use 100% cotton because that is the easiest to breathe through and prevents particles from escaping. All my masks are machine washable and customizable.” 

As put forth in the guidelines established by the CDC, masks are most effective when fitted to a person’s face. Irvin follows these recommendations and makes masks in various sizes and shapes – three sizes you can choose from and two styles (circular and rectangular).