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The latest photos making the rounds on social media aren’t quarantine memes or freshly baked bread. They’re selfies from healthcare workers on the front lines of the covid-19 pandemic revealing painful-looking “battle wounds” from wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) almost constantly.
You might have seen nurses with heat rashes, deep indentations, and ulcers on the bridge of their nose from back-to-back shifts in medical masks—or doctors with dry, cracked hands from far too many hours wearing latex gloves. It looks anything but pleasant.
“N95 masks aren’t designed to be worn for 12 straight hours four to five days a week, so there’s no stopping the damage it causes,” says New York City nurse Rosalee Nasso. “It hurts even on my day off.”
“Not to mention breathing back your own breath for 12 hours since you might only have access to one mask a day,” adds New York City emergency room doctor Karen Ambert. Some healthcare workers are getting cystic acne from the trapped moisture and recycled air.
“It is such a hard time mentally and physically for our healthcare heroes,” says Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She told Yahoo Life that tending to such severe skin damage boils down to three key ingredients: humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
“Humectants are ingredients or products that help the skin retain moisture. Think hyaluronic acid and honey,” says Dr. Engelman. “Emollients help soften the skin. Look for products that contain shea butter, cocoa butter, or argan oil. Occlusives are designed to prevent water loss. Look for glycerin, petrolatum, sunflower oil, and jojoba oil.”
Want to show your appreciation for a healthcare worker by sending a nourishing, healing skincare gift? We asked Dr. Engelman and another board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Rachel Nazarian, to give us their top picks. Shop their handpicked skincare gift guide.
This face moisturizer “has a gel-like consistency and five different types of hyaluronic acids,” says Dr. Engelman. It retains a whopping 40 times its weight in water, so you can consider this one a super-hydrator—plus, it has anti-aging properties. Dr. Engleman notes the product’s time-release of hyaluronic acid is perfect for healthcare workers who don’t have time to reapply throughout the day.
This potent product for the face and body delivers on what its name promises: it’s nothing but pure, unadulterated oil from the nut of the argan tree. Dr. Engelman recommends applying this emollient directly to the skin or mixing it into a moisturizer. “Loaded with vitamins and fatty acids, argan oil effectively repairs skin damage and scarring,” she says. “High in Vitamin E, it helps heal damage from within.”
Dr. Nazarian recommends reaching out to front line healthcare workers with “products that are fragrance-free, and do not contain any scrubs, scrubbing beads, or rough exfoliating additions.” She recommends Vanicream Lite Lotion because it ticks all of those boxes, and it’s the perfect size to carry to work and reapply to dried-out hands. It’s great for everyday, too, because it’s so lightweight and made for even hypersensitive skin.
This hydrating, purifying mask is perfect for doctors and nurses suffering breakouts from mask overuse, according to Dr. Nazarian. “It’s soothing and good for most skin types,” she says. This set of four sheet masks are free of sulfates, parabens, and phthalates, and use activated bamboo charcoal and Moroccan lava clay to deep-clean pores and calm inflammation.
This skincare solution is your ultimate defense against dehydration and inflammation, and it penetrates deep. It’s also one of Dr. Engelman’s favorites. “This mask is packed full of antioxidants to brighten, combat free radical damage, and calm the skin,” she says. “The added sunflower seed oil and shea butter replenish moisture, which in turn strengthens the skin barrier.”
This go-to is a precious commodity in hospitals, clinics, and ERs right now. “Aquaphor is incredibly effective at moisturizing severely cracked or dry areas because of its occlusive properties,” explains Dr. Engelman. “It works by preventing loss of water in the skin which allows natural oils to nourish and repair. Also, this product uses lanolin to condition and soothe dry skin.” Dr. Engleman says to always use occlusives last in your skincare routine.
What could sound more soothing than slathering your face in warm honey? This mask with more than 100,000 likes on Sephora “is incredibly hydrating and calming for the skin,” says Dr. Engelman. She recommends using humectants like honey first in your skincare routine to plump skin and retain moisture before applying emollients and then occlusives. This product is also cruelty-free.
Dr. Nazarian recommends moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid, the hydration holy grail. She’s also a fan of Neutrogena products “which tend to be healing and lightweight.” This affordable tube of Hydro-Boost is perfect for daily use and just the right size to keep in the pocket of a lab jacket or scrubs.
Both dermatologists are big fans of ceramides for their hydrating superpowers, and Dr. Engelman says this Cetaphil lotion specifically is “a great drugstore option that is fragrance-free and paraben-free. It not only includes ceramides but also sunflower oil, amino acids, and allantoin.” She says it will help to heal rough, dry, flaky patches and won’t cause irritation.
This coveted cream wasn’t in our dermatologists’ suggestions, but it is on one of our nurse’s wish lists. “I’ve been using La Mer my entire life,” says Nasso. “It’s the best product I’ve ever used.” La Mer The Moisturizing Soft Cream has some of Dr. Engelman’s favorite ingredients, like shea butter, petrolatum, glycerin, and sunflower oil, so it makes an extra hydrating occlusive—the final step in a great skincare routine.
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