The study found 1 in 5 physicians felt acne had a negative impact on their working lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have led to an increase in acne among health care workers, according to a new report.
In a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, author Birgül Özkesici Kurt, MD, of the Adiyaman Education and Research Hospital in Turkey, shared the results of a survey administered to nearly 200 physicians probing the ways in which acne has affected their lives during the pandemic.
Kurt explained that a number of factors related to COVID-19 could potentially have an impact on acne, including stress, increased hand hygiene measures, and the use of personal protective equipment, such as masks. Some early reports have suggested, for instance, that the use of masks during the pandemic has led to an increase of acne, though Kurt said the existing research was devoid of details such as the duration of mask use and the type of mask worn.
In the new study, Kurt not only asked health care workers about their experiences with acne since the arrival of COVID-19, but also about their histories of acne, their stress levels, and their mask type and usage.
The survey was completed by 172 physicians in November and December 2020. The majority (159) were female, their mean age was 35, and all had experienced acne at some point in their lives before the pandemic.
Kurt found that nearly all of the respondents (158) had active acne at the time of the survey. However, 45.35% of respondents said their acne problem increased during the pandemic; 27.33% of respondents described their acne as having “relapsed” during the pandemic, and 7.56% said this was their first time with an acne problem.
The use of surgical masks was very common among the health care workers, with 89.13% of respondents who said their acne was triggered or worsened reporting the use of surgical masks at work, and 75.76% of respondents who said their acne was decreased or improved reporting the same. However, Kurt did not find any correlation between acne and the number or duration of “mask breaks” a respondent took, nor did the number of layers of masks worn by a respondent appear to make a difference.
A large majority of respondents reported an increase in stress during the pandemic, though the rate was higher in the group reporting an increased acne problem. Similarly, most participants said they had an increase in consumption of foods with a high glycemic index. Such foods have been linked with an increased risk of acne.
Among respondents with acne, the chin was the most common location of acne, followed by the cheeks, both areas affected by mask use, Kurt noted.
The survey suggested a number of factors were associated with a heightened risk of acne problems during the pandemic, including the presence of acne scars, adult-onset, acne, and previous systemic acne treatment, all of which heightened acne risk during the pandemic.
“In the light of these findings, the severity of acne experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic may be considered to contribute to the development of acne during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kurt wrote.
While noting that the study’s relatively small sample size was a limitation, Kurt said these data should serve as a warning size of the ways in which acne can exacerbate the stress healthcare workers already face. In the survey, 1 in 5 respondents said their acne negatively affected their lives during the pandemic.
“This may affect the work motivation of physicians during the pandemic that will last for months, maybe years,” Kurt concluded. “[Healthcare workers] should be informed about the proper use of masks and skincare.”
Özkesici Kurt B. The course of acne in healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and evaluation of possible risk factors. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2021;20(12):3730-3738. doi:10.1111/jocd.14530