5 Self Care Beauty Tips For Nurses: Skin Routines, Acne Help and 20 Protective Hairstyles

12 Min Read Published July 16, 2020
Collage of nurses sporting different haircuts

Nurses around the U.S. are experiencing problems with their skin and hair since the emergence of COVID-19. Wearing facemasks and PPE on a daily basis for 12+ hours has been causing some nurses to experience increased acne and dry skin. While washing hair daily with heavy detergents has been leading to hair loss and other hair problems. 

Nurses have been reporting the following problems with their skin and hair, 

  • Acne
  • Breakouts
  • Inflammation
  • Skin breakdown
  • Hair loss
  • Hair breakage
  • Dry hair

These are some of the effects nurses are experiencing from PPE. At the beginning of the year, we never imagined we'd have to get so resourceful with PPE. Nearly all PPE is designed for single use. Use it once and throw it away. PPE wasn't intended to be worn for hours, worn from patient to patient, or reused. A massive shortage of PPE and fear of running out caused many facilities to mandate PPE reuse. Nurses and other healthcare professionals wear the same PPE for entire shifts, and their skin and hair suffer the consequences. 

For skin, we asked two medical estheticians for their best maskne advice,

When it comes to hair, we chatted with 3 hairstylists, who specialize in a range of hair types,  to get their best tips and advice for nurses to protect their hair while at work, 

1. Skin Care Tips For Nurses

Houston based licensed medical esthetician and certified environmental aging specialist Nicole Baldwin, provided us with an excellent recommendation for preventing and managing skin damage during COVID-19

Protecting Skin

PW: What can nurses do to protect their skin during this time?

NB: Nurses must be mindful of the cleansers they use. Over-washing the skin with soap and detergent-filled cleansers can strip away the skin's critical fat molecules and good bacteria leading to contact dermatitis (red and irritated skin). Strengthening the skin barrier is essential to healthy skin. Being continuously exposed to environmental aggressors damage the extracellular matrix, causing premature skin aging and other skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. Nurses and healthcare professionals need to use cleansers that:

  1. Are hydrating
  2. Are gentle
  3. Stabilize the skin microbiome

Hydration is critical to protecting the skin against bruising and irritation caused by daily PPE wear. I recommend Caudalie Vinopure Pore Purifying Cleanser (Blemishes and oil control), Fresh Rose Cleansing Foam Face Wash (Hydration and Rejuvenation), and Biao Envirolution Anti-Pollution Micellar Foam Cleanser (neutralizes pollution residue and detoxifies skin cells) 

Preventing Breakouts 

PW: What can nurses do to prevent breakouts?

NB: First and foremost, it’s essential to know that breakouts are our body's way of informing us that something is going on internally. For example, in holistic medicine, we learn that breakouts above the nose area due to stress and breakouts below the nose area due to hormonal issues. Unhealthy eating from a hectic schedule can cause glycation (sugars in the bloodstream that form collagen, elastin, and other structural proteins in the skin) that damage the skin cells and cause breakouts. To prevent breakouts, it's vital to know what triggers your breakouts. Are they triggered internally or by contact with things such as:

  • Pollution buildup
  • Daily environmental aggressors
  • Unhealthy eating
  • Over-washing the skin
  • Prolonged wear of PPE

If the cause of your breakout is stress, engage in stress-relieving exercises such as mindfulness, spiritual prayer, or exercising to regulate cortisol hormones and Seborrheic dermatitis (dry skin) that promote acne and skin disorders.

A dermatologist should always address hormonal acne or symptoms found on the skin. Be sure to cleanse hands before applying PPE and after removing PPE to eliminate germs and bacteria from transmitting to your skin. I recommend using:

  1. A nourishing skin care cleansing product such as Noxzema Facial Cleanser Moisturizing Cleansing.
  2. A detoxifying face mask such as Boscia Black Charcoal Mask.
  3. A recovery face mask such as the Biao Envirolution, Skin R&R Face Mask
  4. A de-stressing face mask for stressed and fatigued skin. 

Finally, drinking lots of water daily is essential for purifying the skin and keeping it hydrated and healthy. Try to drink at least 1-gallon per day and watch as your skin transforms!

Skin Product Recommendations

PW: Do you have any product recommendations for different types of skin:

  1. Oily
  2. Sensitive
  3. Dry
  4. Combo
  5. Acne or breakout-prone


  1. Oily – Dr. Perricone Hypoallergenic Face Moisturizer
  2. Sensitive – Base Butter Radiant Face Jelly
  3. Dry Skin - Epara Cleansing Lotion 
  4. Combo – Glossier Exfoliating Skin Perfector 
  5. Acne or breakout-prone. – Rich and Clear Breakout Erase

Looking for skincare created by a nurse? Nurse Practitioner, Dr. Natash Welch, DNP created a skincare line, Abraza Skincare. Abraza treats:

  • Acne
  • Hair loss
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Anti-aging 

12 Things You Can Do Right Now To Combat Maskne!

"I wear a mask at work everyday," says Jennifer Crampton-Walker, Master Esthetician and owner of Audrey's Holistic Skin Care in Seattle. "Mask wearing is wreaking havoc on the skin of essential workers and healthcare professionals, alike. While it’s a small problem in the grand scheme, small problems are still problems."

Jennifer shared these awesome tips to prevent and treat the dreaded "maskne."

  1. Refrain from picking at your skin
  2. Schedule time with your favorite esthetician
  3. Leave the extractions to professionals
  4. Avoid touching your face
  5. Wash your hands before putting on a mask
  6. Wear a breathable mask or one that is freshly washed
  7. Get outdoors whenever possible
  8. Try an Oxygen facial
  9. Seek consultations with an MD or ND to test for vitamin deficiencies and hormone imbalances and find ways to minimize stress
  10. High frequency and LED light therapy help kill acne-bacteria
  11. Get adequate sleep (I know this can be difficult for nurses)
  12. Drink lots of water (try for 1 gallon a day, if you can!) 

Jennifer loves plant-based, high quality, holistic skin-care products. She recommends the following skincare routine with some of her favorite products, 

  • Use a deep-cleaning cleanser: Daily use of masks is trapping heat and, as a result, is causing excess moisture that affects our skin from a lack of exposure to fresh air. This, in turn, manifests the perfect storm of acne-causing bacteria, moisture and dead skin build-up. To combat this, I recommend upgrading to a professional skincare line and using a deep-cleaning cleanser. The Lyche Willow Bark cleanser from Sorella Apothecary is a natural exfoliator and pore minimizer that works wonders. 
  • Apply a non-stripping toner to your skin to balance it: Spiced Wine Toner from Sorella Apothecary boasts pumpkin extract, which is a natural, gentle product that exfoliates and removes superficial dead skin cells and minimizes the appearance of pores. 
  • Finish with a bold moisturizer that won’t clog your pores: The Balm from Sorella Apothecary includes beeswax, which is a natural emollient and acts as a protective barrier for skin.
  • Use an exfoliating mask once or twice per week: Sorella Apothecary’s mint poppy seed polish acts as a two-in-one mask that exfoliates. It can be applied to the face with circular movements to remove dead skin cells with eco-friendly buffers to help brighten skin. You can relax with it on for 20-minutes as the natural kaolin clay draws out impurities. 

2. Haircare Tips For Nurses 

While some hair salons have slowly reopened, many women, especially those in healthcare, are finding difficulty caring for their hair. Here are a few tips to protect your hair.

Hair washing 

When we’re not in the middle of a pandemic it’s common (and recommended) to skip shampooing hair on a daily basis. Healthy air should maintain some of the natural oils and over-shampooing can dry out the hair. 

But, during these times, you might just feel better overall if you shampoo after your shift. In which case  it is recommended to use a mild, sulfate-free shampoo. If you need to wash daily, choose a shampoo that contains mild detergent and a pH that doesn't exceed 5.5. Scalp therapist, Bridgette Hill told Allure that over-shampooing could cause:

  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Dry, flaky scalp
  • Overproduction of unhealthy bacteria that trigger folliculitis

What to do if you have breakage, thinning, frizz or dryness

Experiencing hair breakage, thinning, excessive frizz, or dryness? Over-shampooing and heat damage are probably the culprits. By shampooing with sulfates and other harsh chemicals you are stripping the hair of the natural oils that it needs. The Curly Girl Method (CGM) has been growing in popularity because it helps all hair types (even straight hair) become healthy again and repair years of heat damage and harsh chemicals.

The method encourages its followers to relearn how to properly care for the hair and to limit some of the damaging hair care and styling methods we've been doing our entire lives. It takes some time to learn what's best for your hair, read more about the curly girl method here.

In the meantime, here are some of the basic guidelines for healthier hair, 

  • Stop shampooing every day and throw away all shampoo that contains sulfates. However, it is perfectly fine to co-wash! Co-washing is simply "washing" the hair with conditioner only. You can even find gentle cleansing conditioners that will still clean the hair without stripping it of the much-needed oils. If you have type 1-2 hair, it's fine to wash with a sulfate-free shampoo once or twice per week. 
  • Use a cleansing conditioner only to "wash" hair if you must wash multiple times per week. 
  • Stop using heat styling tools every day. You'd be surprised how damaging your beloved fat iron or curling iron are.
  • If you have wavy or curly hair (2a-4c type hair) do not comb or brush dry hair. Instead finger comb or use a wide-toothed comb to detangle conditioned hair while it is wet. 
  • Remove all shampoos, conditioners, and styling products that contain Sulfates, alcohol, non-water-soluble silicones and fragrance. Namely sodium lauryl sulfate & ammonium laureth sulfate.
  • Protect your hair while sleeping or when it is not styled. You may not know this but, your pillowcase could be damaging your hair and causing frizz! An easy fix is to purchase a satin or silk pillowcase or hair buff to cover the hair while sleeping. At work, you could wear a satin/silk bonnet under your hair cap. 
  • Do not dry your hair with a traditional towel. Towels create frizz and can cause breakage. Instead, opt for an old t-shirt or microfiber towel. 

Hairstyling products

Certain chemicals wreak havoc on the hair! It is recommended to stop using products that contain silicones, alcohol, and phthalates. You can find a list of products that work for your hair texture here. 

If your hair is oily, avoid the use of hair oils and gels. These products can attract dust and compromise the protection of your head cap or covering. And, if you’re not able to wash your hair, you can always opt for a dry shampoo. 

If you have curly hair, type 3b to 4c, it’s important to keep it moisturized. Founder of Curlss for the Girlss, Kennedy Johnson told Coveteur that hair needs water, just like a plant. Natural hair that ranges between 3b and 4c can use a little water every day. Johnson states she uses a mixture of jojoba oil and aloe in a mist to give her hair some moisture.

There are many drug store brands that now offer silicone-free and "pure" products, just make sure to check the label. The brand Not Your Mothers can be found at most drug stores and is a great low-cost option. Innersense is an organic haircare brand that smells wonderful and works wonders. 

Itchy scalp? 

If you have a flaky or itchy scalp, again, over-shampooing is probably to blame! Try dipping your head in a bowl on 1-part apple cider vinegar/ 1-part water or using a little tea-tree oil. And, throw away your silicone-containing shampoo. 

Your hair may also be lacking moisture.

  • Try a deep conditioning mask 
  • Add a little leave-in conditioner with water in a spray bottle and mist your hair every day
  • Use a little olive oil, coconut oil or jojoba oil on the scalp. 
  • Stop shampooing every day with harsh detergents and silicones, instead, use a cleansing conditioner or gentle non-drying shampoo.

3. Protective Hairstyles For Nurses To Wear To Work

These three hairstylists provided their recommendations for styles that are both trendy and protective, 

French Braids, Fishtail Braids, Cornrows (all hair types)

Master Cosmetology instructor and owner of 903 Salon in Oklahoma City, Natasha Smith, suggests nurses with wavy, straight, or curly hair wear their hair braided, french braided, or in cornrows to protect the hair while at work. 

Master educator and stylist Diana Tracy Cotton tells us that braids are a fantastic option for all hair types due to the convenience of not having to do a daily hairstyle

A bonus is that braids can be low-maintenance and the hairstyle will last. For people with straight, wavy, or curly hair (type 1a to 3a) braids can last up to a week (depending on your particular hair and scalp) as long as the hair is wrapped up and doesn’t get wet." You can also add some dry shampoo to the hair in between washes.  

People with curly and kinky hair (type 3a to 4c) can wear braids for months and can get wet. Braids will also hold up well underneath a head covering. If going multiple days or weeks without washing/shampooing your hair sounds uncomfortable, Smith recommends, "using a good astringent such as witch hazel or dry shampoo."



Fishtail braids

French or Dutch braids



Halo French Braid

Top Knots, Ponytails & Pineapples (all hair types)

Tired of your same old boring ponytail or bun? Well, here are three trendy, quick, and convenient hairstyles that are great for all hair types that are medium to long in length. Cosmetologist Destiniqua Fairle, recommends top knots and ponytails because they are easy and will also protect your hair while at work. 

The pineapple hairstyle is great for people with naturally curly/kinky hair who want to maintain their curl pattern and reduce frizz while at work. Side note, a silk or satin scarf under your head cap will do wonders for your curls. 

Top Knot

French Braid Bun

Flipped ponytail


Twist outs, Braid outs, Flat outs, Locs (coily, kinky, curly hair)

These protective hairstyles keep you from manipulating your hair, retain moisture, and are easy to maintain. They are great for curly/kinky type 3b-4c hair. 








Styles such as,

  • Twist outs 
  • Braid outs 
  • Flat outs are great styles for beginners. 

Michelle G. Rhodes, MHS, RN, CMC wears her natural hair in Sisterlocks. She suggests these tips to women of color who prefer to wear their natural hair:

  1. Tea tree oil to moisturize as well as an antibacterial
  2. Cover your hair 
  3. Wash your coverings daily  
  4. Remember your hair needs fresh air and sunshine too

4. Short Hair Styles

Cotton states, "As it pertains to a healthcare individual such as a nurse, it helps the professional to make contact with clients or simply do their job with ease without worrying about their hair. A short cut requires less maintenance than longer hair. It is also easy to style if the individual has the right cut that frames the facial structure." Here are two cute short hairstyles, 

Pixie cut

Trendy short- cut

5. Hair Caps & Covers

Hair caps are also a trendy option for nurses with all hair types to cover and protect their hair quickly. A registered nurse, Lolita Korneagay sells these unique hair caps on Etsy. 

While we miss our trips to the salon or spa, protecting ourselves and the public is the most important, right now. Try some of these tips to protect your hair and skin and let us know how they worked.  

Portia Wofford is an award-winning nurse, writer, and coach for nurse writers. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days Portia strives to empower nurses by offering resources for mental wellbeing--while empowering health-related businesses to grow their communities through engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.

Portia Wofford
Portia Wofford
Nurse.org Contributor

Portia Wofford, known as The Write Nurse, is an award-winning nurse, writer, and content marketer. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days, Portia empowers brands to increase growth opportunities and promote health equity through diverse, engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on InstagramLinkedin, and Twitter for her latest. When Portia’s not writing you can find her at sporting events with her son or promoting her platform of health equity as the reigning Ms. Black Alabama USA, 2022.

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