With the COVID-19 pandemic now stretching beyond six months in the United States, Americans have become accustomed to wearing face coverings – mostly masks designed for health-care workers – to help protect themselves and others from the spread of the infectious disease. And for many, wearing the masks/coverings in itself can be physically uncomfortable, especially when it comes to our skin. Yet, whether it is in the workplace, the grocery, the gym, or even when walking downtown, it is almost ubiquitous that you are obligated, or mandated, to wear a mask.
A drawback of mask-wearing is that it isn’t always pleasant to the skin on your face, much less comfortable when worn for multiple hours at a time. When regularly wearing a mask, there is a possibility of irritation to your facial skin and lips. As CNN Underscored explains, the risks of skin irritation are increased in warmer weather due to sweating. Sweating only compounds the potential skin damage done by the friction of the mask on your face, and the retention of skin oils that might occur. Because of the risks to your skin health posed by masks, we’ve assembled some tips on actions you can take to prevent or reduce skin irritation:
Routine as A Way To Treat Skin Irritation
Routine is the No. 1 thing to keep in mind if you want to effectively prevent or remedy skin irritation caused by wearing a mask. If you are prone to irritation from masks, or even in general, then it takes regular maintenance to keep your skin free of such irritation and blemishes. So during mask season, consistency is key when it comes to skin care. Here are the main things to include in your mask-season skin-care routine:
Moisturizing your face daily is the first thing recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Moisturizing your facial skin prevents dryness, which is a common skin problem caused by masks. They recommend applying moisturizer both before and after wearing a mask; This is especially useful if you are wearing your mask all day. There are different types of moisturizer (such as creams, lotions, and gel moisturizers), so try to pick one based on your skin type. Those with oily skin tend to benefit most from gels, while those with dry skin get the most benefit from creams.
Rinsing your face with water is also important after moisturizing, says Dr. Harold Lancer. He advocates that a normal rinse after moisturizing with antibacterial moisturizer is essential to the skin-care process.
Petroleum jelly is essential if your lips tend to get dry. Many people experience dryness during certain times of the year anyways, and masks tend to exacerbate this. The AAD recommends applying petroleum jelly to your lips after washing your face and before putting on your mask. And of course, it is best to do so with clean hands.
Other Measures to Prevent Skin Irritation
In one Vox article, dermatologist Jessica Wu recommends “wearing masks made out of natural fibers, such as cotton, bamboo, or natural silk to reduce the likelihood of irritation." This is especially helpful to people with sensitive skin. Wu recommends that people avoid face coverings such as neck gaiters and wraps, because both wool and synthetic materials such as polyester are more likely to irritate your face. So if you can, seek out a mask made with natural fibers, such as cotton. You can even make one at home. The AAD recommends wearing a mask with a snug, comfortable fit.
Dr. Langer and the other dermatologists who spoke with Underscored strongly advised against wearing makeup under your mask. Doing so is only likely to increase the friction and irritation that would occur anyways. Lessening or eliminating the makeup underneath makes it easier for your skin to “breathe,” they say. They also recommended avoiding makeups with comedogenic properties, as they are extra likely to cause blemishes on the skin under your mask.