Face masks are a current must-have accessory, whether you’re a front line healthcare worker or braving the aisles of your local grocery store. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommending everyone wear one in public, this means constant contact with delicate facial skin. But what happens when your skin gets irritated by constantly wearing a face mask? We asked Jayla Gray, MD, Renown Health dermatologist for advice on putting our best face forward.
While wearing a protective face mask is beneficial in the fight against COVID-19, it can wreak havoc on your skin. Covering your nose and breathing into your mask creates a humid environment, especially if you wear it for an extended period.
How can skin irritation be avoided when wearing a face mask?
Although the friction of a face mask is unavoidable, there are some practical ways to avoid major skin problems.
“You can protect skin from irritation by decreasing the time masks or PPE (personal protective equipment) are worn,” says Gray. “Specifically, studies say wearing masks longer than 6 hours was correlated to an increased chance of adverse skin effects.”
To protect your skin, Gray says, “Wash your face with lukewarm water and gentle, fragrance-free cleanser when you remove your mask. This will remove the oil, sweat, dirt and makeup accumulating underneath it.” She cautions that hot water can be abrasive to the skin. For cleansing, use lukewarm water and a gentle, fragrance-free soap that will not strip the natural moisture of the skin. After washing the face, apply an unscented, gentle moisturizer.
She also suggests applying emollients like Vaseline or Aquaphor to the irritated areas of your skin. You can use them before putting your mask on and again after mask removal to promote healing. You can also apply them to any areas of irritation before bed to help heal while you sleep.
Signs of skin irritation
Unlike other parts of your body, skin irritation is immediately noticeable. Some signs your skin may need some TLC include the following:
- Skin redness
- Pressure ulcers
- Acne or rosacea flare-ups
Tips to Tame Skin Break-outs from Wearing a Face Mask
Is excess sweat or oil from wearing a face mask aggravating your acne? “Acne and rosacea can flare when wearing a mask for extended periods of time because of the heat and moisture trapped in the mask against your skin,” Gray admits. “Adding an over-the-counter acne wash with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may help as well as using non-comedogenic (pore-clogging) moisturizers and makeup.”
But what if those spots won’t go away? “If your regular over-the-counter skincare routine is not controlling these flare-ups, then it is time to make an appointment with your dermatologist for other treatment options,” Gray advises.
It’s important to remember that anything touching your face, including your hands, can carry germs. “Cloth masks can be cleaned in the washing machine using the warmest appropriate water setting per CDC guidelines,” adds Gray. She recommends using the hot cycle of your washer or sterilizing your mask by placing it in boiling water. “Using fragrance-free detergent, dryer sheets or fabric softener will help with sensitive skin,” she notes.
Something to keep in mind – the labels on Lysol and other disinfectants state they may irritate skin and also include respiratory warnings. It’s important to read product labels you use for specific concerns on the ingredients they contain.
Related: The Best Way To Clean A Cloth Mask
Please remember, wearing a mask reduces the risk of passing COVID-19 to others if you are asymptomatic (have no symptoms). The CDC states that although wearing a mask will not necessarily protect you, if we all wear one it benefits our community by lowering overall disease. Please bring your own mask (or other face covering) when visiting any Renown Health location.