"You get hot, sweaty, dried out, irritated and acne prone with all that moisture that builds under the masks. Wearing gloves and washing your hands/using sanitizer dozens of times a day leads to dry, cracked and even bleeding hands," beauty and fashion reporter Cheryl Wischhover told TODAY Style.
It's a reality that hits close to home for Wischhover, who worked as a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatric oncology for over 15 years before making the move to journalism 10 years ago.
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So when one of Wischhover's colleagues mentioned that her medical resident friends were dealing with all sorts of skin issues from wearing a mask all day, she sent out the following Tweet on March 19: "Beauty editors/brands: I've heard from hospital staff that their faces are breaking out/skin a mess from wearing masks. Trying to organize some donations — acne products, cleansers, gentle moisturizers, balms. It's small but something we can do rn."
Countless brands began reaching out to Wischhover wanting to donate, and industry experts also stepped up to the plate. Kristina Rodulfo, beauty director for Women's Health, Kathleen Hou beauty director for New York Magazine's The Cut, and author Caroline Moss quickly joined Wischhover to form Donate Beauty, a group that facilitates beauty donations to health care workers on the front lines.
Members of the Donate Beauty team, which also includes a crew of volunteers, communicate with health care workers to see what products they need the most and then work with beauty brands to get donations sent directly to hospitals. Hand cream and lip balm are by far the most requested items, but skin care products are also popular.
As of today, the group has helped facilitate the delivery of more than 300,000 donated products to more than 400 hospitals and more than 40,000 health care workers.
"The brands have been incredible. While we have reached out to some, the vast majority have contacted us, offering anywhere from 10 to almost 30,000 products. We're speaking to a brand right now that wants to donate 1 million sheet masks!" Wischhover said.
Have your own sizable skin care stash at home? You don't have to work for a beauty brand or be a style editor to get involved. Simply contact Donate Beauty at firstname.lastname@example.org, let them know what you have available and they will pair you with a local hospital or a smaller team.
Jennifer Barthole, Shape's senior fashion editor, is also working to provide relief to health care workers by focusing her efforts on providing much-needed footwear to nurses and doctors who are on their feet all day.
"As soon as NYC went into lockdown, I reached out to my network of friends and family, who are medical professionals in the tri-state area, to ask them what they needed. Since I have access to so many products through my job, they all expressed a need for new supportive footwear," she told TODAY.
Barthole initially hoped to secure around 50 pairs of shoes, but as she reached out to more people and brands, the request for sneakers and the amount of donations skyrocketed. "I decided to call the initiative Sneakers for Heroes and it continues to grow daily," she said. "Almost every brand that I have reached out to, nearly 40 in total, responded almost immediately."
So far, Sneakers for Heroes has helped facilitate the donation of more than 400 pairs of sneakers to more than 100 medical facilities nationwide, and Barthole's goal is to send out 1,000 pairs by the end of April.
"Right now, health care workers are working with an excessive amount of patients, especially in hot spots like NYC. As a result, their shifts are longer and they are spending the majority of the day on their feet, leading to back pain and physical strain. They are constantly disinfecting their shoes, causing them to wear out faster," she said.
A new pair of supportive shoes can help provide a bit of physical comfort to health care workers, and hopefully a bit of emotional comfort, too.
"Sending them a new pair of shoes is a way to express gratitude and hopefully remind them that we are so appreciative for all that they do," Barthole said.
Barthole's next steps are building out a website and social media page, then looking into becoming an official 501(c)(3) organization. She said hearing about the direct impact her work has on health care heroes makes all her hard work worth it: "The messages I have received from health care workers are emotional, raw and frankly motivating me to deliver as many sneakers as possible. I would also like to donate to grocery store workers, postal carriers and drugstore employees. They are keeping our country going right now."
Barthole, Wischhover and the Donate Beauty team all said they feel grateful for the opportunity to use their position to help others.
"It's provided a sense of purpose, since all of us feel pretty helpless. We've been overwhelmed and really thrilled by the response of all the brands, without whom this would not be possible," she said. "While we wish we could give the front-line workers protective equipment to make them safer and more secure, we know we can give them a little bit of luxury and comfort. When this is all over, I hope the world realizes how hard they work and how much they sacrifice, even when there isn't a global pandemic."