The COVID-19 pandemic has forced health care workers and hospital staff to work long hours while wearing face masks, gloves and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE). They’re also washing their hands more frequently and applying hand sanitizer or using cleaning products.
Not surprisingly, many employees report skin irritation from the continual use of PPE and exposure to the disinfecting chemicals, especially if they have sensitive skin.
This week, University of New Mexico medical students and faculty in the Department of Dermatology stepped forward to help, delivering 200 gift bags containing gentle cleansers, hand creams, facial lotions and protective ointments to frontline personnel at UNM Hospital.
“We’re focusing mostly on preventing and treating contact dermatitis,” says Jaimie Lin, a third-year medical student who is a member of the Dermatology Student Interest Group.
They created an informational handout in both English and Spanish to go with the bags describing the signs and symptoms of dermatitis and how to best protect one’s skin. It is based on recommendations from the American Academy of Dermatology.
There are different types of dermatitis, Lin says. Irritant contact dermatitis can be caused by a mask and prolonged contact with the skin or repeated use of harsh soaps and hand sanitizer. Some people will have issues like breakouts and rosacea, so gentle skin care is recommended.
“We want HSC employees to know our board-certified dermatologists are available to consult if they’re having skin issues that are not improved with these measures,” says Dermatology chair Aimee Smidt, MD.
At Smidt’s suggestion, Lin and fellow medical student Victor Wu started assembling the gift bags, drawing from a stockpile of sample products in the UNMH Dermatology Clinic.
“The Department of Dermatology has been really excited about this initiative,” Lin says. Going forward, she says, the students might crowdsource donations to purchase additional skin care products so that gift bags can be distributed to other UNM Health System employees. They also might be able to include full-size products for those who need them most.
“There has been a lot of support within the Department about people wanting to help,” Lin says.