Now that we’re a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are getting used to wearing face masks. For some of us, they’re a requirement at work; for others, they’re a protective measure when we’re out of our homes. And for many of us, they are causing problems with our skin.
When worn for long periods, face masks can cause chafing, rashes, peeling skin, itchiness, and acne flare-ups. Health care workers, who’ve had some of the most extensive experience with face masks, have dubbed these types of skin problems “maskne.”
How can you protect your skin when you wear a face mask? Here are some tips:
Wear a Well-Fitting, Comfortable Mask
Unless you need to wear a medical-grade face mask for your work, choose a tightly woven cotton mask that’s sewn in two or three layers. Cotton keeps the skin cooler than synthetic fabric does, so it is gentler on your face. Cotton also wicks moisture and oil from the skin’s surface and is less likely to trigger an acne breakout. Masks made of synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, polyester, and rayon, can irritate your skin by trapping heat, moisture, and facial oils.
A mask with an inside layer of silk can be even more comfortable and less irritating to your skin. And silk may be more effective than cotton in blocking aerosols.
If you need to wear an N95 mask for work, as many healthcare workers do, select a mask that fits well. Take the time to adjust it for a proper fit; it should be snug but comfortable — tight enough to create a seal around the edges but not so tight that it digs into your skin.
Wash Your Cloth Mask After Every Use
Don’t wear the same mask for a second day without washing it. The fabric may collect virus particles, which need to be washed out, and it will undoubtedly accumulate pore-clogging particles like dirt and oil. It’s best to keep extra masks on hand so that you always have a fresh one. No special measures are required for cleaning a cotton mask—just throw it in the washing machine after you’re done with it. You can also use fragrance-free laundry detergent and skip the fabric softener, especially if your mask causes skin irritation.
Wash Your Face Regularly
Wash your face with a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser before putting your mask on and after you take it off. Cleansing will minimize the amount of oil and dirt on the inside of your mask while you wear it.
Apply moisturizer every time you wash your face, too. Choose a product that’s right for your skin type: a moisturizing lotion for normal skin, a cream for dry skin, or a gel lotion for oily skin. Apply the moisturizer while your skin is still damp from washing, just after you’ve gently patted it dry.
Protect Your Skin from Mask Friction
Friction, where your mask or its straps rub against your skin, can cause chafing. You can protect your skin from moderate friction with a petrolatum ointment, such as Aquaphor or Vaseline. (Both are oil-based, so don’t use them on areas with acne, if that is a problem for you.) For more severe chafing — from the extended wearing of N95 masks, for example — you might try hydrocolloid bandages.
To help reddened skin heal when you aren’t wearing your mask, hydrocortisone 1% cream may also be a solution. But don’t apply this cream to broken skin. Instead, cover open wounds or cracks with a bandage.
If the skin behind your ears is irritated from a mask with elastic ear loops, switch to one that ties behind your head. Wearing masks with different tie arrangements on alternating days can give your skin a chance to recover.
Take a Break from Makeup
Makeup can clog pores and cause acne in the warm, humid conditions beneath your facemask. Products like foundation and concealer are the worst offenders. No one will see that part of your face anyway, so skip the makeup to protect your skin. It’s fine to use makeup on areas not covered by the mask, such as your eyes and eyebrows.
Choose a Chicago Plastic Surgeon You Can Trust
Dr. Florence Mussat is a board-certified plastic surgeon in downtown Chicago who has extensive experience in facial treatments and cosmetic surgery. Call our office at (312) 751-9000 or contact us online to schedule a personal consultation with Dr. Mussat and our team today.