Updated: Sep 14, 2020
I have had countless freak-outs over my skin since the corona virus forced us all into mask wearing everywhere we go. Now that mask has become an official part of our daily outfits, it should be safe to say that they cause our skin breakouts. Masks provide a layer of protection. But they can also irritate the skin, clog pores, and flare acne.
Masks act like occlusive barriers, which means trapped makeup can lead to clogged pores and breakouts. Also, residue from makeup can soil your mask fabric. Wear only clean masks: Dirt and oil from your skin plus bacteria from your mouth and nose will end up on your cloth and ultimately buried into your skin.
Rubbing: Masks can cause irritation through friction and chafing, almost like a rug burn. The areas most at risk are the bridge of the nose and where elastic bands hit behind the ears. Over time, tightly fitting masks can put enough pressure on the skin to cause it to breakdown.
Irritation: The material of a mask absorbs the skin’s natural oils. For some people, this leads to dryness and sensitivity. Residue from detergents and fabric softeners also gets stuck underneath the mask and can cause irritation. When irritation becomes inflammation, you see redness, dry patches, peeling, or dark marks. If you have a skin condition like rosacea or psoriasis, the inflammation can make it flare.
Occlusion: Occlusion from a mask also causes issues. Pores get clogged and can become pimples or acne cysts. Your breath trapped beneath the mask makes the skin surface warm and moist. Besides regular acne, this environment can lead to a breakout called folliculitis, which is when yeast or bacteria infect hair follicles.
What's the best material for a face mask?
According to the CDC, surgical masks and N95s should be saved for healthcare workers. They recommend that the public wear cloth masks. The material your mask is made out of affects how well it protects you. It also affects how well you can breathe through it and how your skin responds to it.
The best choice for a homemade mask is tightly woven, 100% cotton. It is effective, yet gentle on the skin. They found that cotton provides a good balance of protection and breath-ability. Studies have shown natural fibers like cotton filter better than synthetic fibers like polyester. Scarves and bandanas were the least effective. Denim and canvas worked well and were breathable, but would be too rough on the skin.
Wash your face first: Dirt and oil on your skin will get trapped under the mask and can cause breakouts. Always put your mask on over a clean face. Choose a gentle cleanser that is fragrance-free and oil-free. Rinse with lukewarm water, not hot. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing the skin.
Apply a good moisturizer: Moisturizer keeps your skin hydrated and acts like a barrier to friction from your mask. Choose one that is fragrance-free and oil-free. Look for protective ingredients like ceramide and hyaluronic acid. Avoid heavy products that can clog your skin and make you break out. If you decide on hyaluronic be sure to use SPF 30.
Skip the makeup: Don’t wear makeup underneath your mask. Masks act like occlusive barriers, which means trapped makeup can lead to clogged pores and breakouts. Also, residue from makeup can soil your mask fabric.
Wear only clean masks: Dirt and oil from your skin plus bacteria from your mouth and nose will end up on your cloth mask. Keep a rotation of masks on hand and wash them after every use.
Stick to fragrance-free laundry detergent: When washing your mask, choose a fragrance-free laundry detergent and lay flat to dry. Fragrance within fabric can be an irritant, so you definitely don’t want it on your face.
Don’t reuse surgical masks: Surgical masks are not meant to be reused because there is no good way to clean them. The CDC does not recommend surgical masks for the public. But if you choose to use one, don’t use the same one twice.
Protect your ears: Elastic strap loops can cause friction burns on the backs of your ears. If your skin is sensitive or if you’ll be wearing a mask for long periods of time, there are alternatives. You can attach the straps to buttons on a headband or to a clip behind your head.
Avoid harsh products: Medicated products like retinol or benzoyl peroxide are more irritating under a mask. If you’re wearing a mask a lot, either use less of them or stop using them altogether.
Dryness/skin peeling: Dryness and peeling can be the first signs of mask irritation. Over time, your skin can become prone to sensitivity, redness, dark marks, and breakdown. To fight this, always apply moisturizer before wearing your mask.
Redness/swelling: If you have redness and swelling after taking off your mask, icing the skin can help. You can use ice cubes in a bag or frozen peas. Buffer with a paper towel and apply it to the skin for a few minutes at a time. Follow with a small amount of over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream. Use the hydrocortisone only as needed. Be careful not to use it too much or too often. Overuse can thin the skin and make you break out. Don’t apply your mask right on top of the hydrocortisone. That traps it in and makes it stronger.
Skin breakdown: If you have fissures or breaks in the skin, cover them with a hydrocolloid dressing before putting your mask on. After removing the mask wash your face, apply pure aloe.
Acne/breakouts: If you’re getting pimples under your mask, change your moisturizer. Look for something light that is “non-comedogenic.” This means it won’t clog your pores. You can add a glycolic acid wash or a sulfur soap to your regimen. Avoid leave-on products that will end up trapped under the mask. If your breakouts are severe or don’t get better, you might need prescription medications.
When should I see a doctor?
If you have skin damage or breakouts that don’t respond to skincare changes, you should see a dermatologist. Many now offer virtual visits. Spreading redness or draining pus can be signs of infection. If this happens, seek immediate medical attention.
The bottom line
Because of the corona virus pandemic, we might be wearing masks for a long time. The right skincare routine can help lessen mask-related skin damage and breakouts.
PHOTO CREDIT: (CHIMENE)