Recent months have presented new challenges to everyone as we all work to battle the novel coronavirus. One of those challenges is learning how to navigate the world while wearing a mask or other personal protective equipment (PPE). If you’re one of the people who has to wear a mask for many hours, you’ve probably experienced some skin irritation, especially if you have pre-existing skin conditions like acne, rosacea or eczema. Find out some ways you can protect your skin so you don’t have to add yet another challenge to your day.
When you take your mask/PPE off after a prolonged time of wearing it, wash your face with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser. This will help cleanse your skin from sweat, dead skin cells and any dirt that has accumulated throughout the day under your mask. You may also want to gently exfoliate your face to clean out your pores where debris has been rubbed in from the friction of the mask. Don’t over-wash -- washing more than around 2x/day can dry out your skin and make it more likely to get irritated. After you’ve washed your face, apply an oil-free moisturizer that has ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and/or dimethicone. The moisturizer can help soothe a dry skin rash and prevent further irritation by adding a protective layer onto the skin. Avoid moisturizers whose main ingredient is water and those that contain retinoids, alcohol or hydroxy acids. These ingredients can dry out your skin, making it more susceptible to irritation.
To give your skin extra protection beyond a moisturizer, apply an emollient to your skin after you’ve washed and moisturized and before putting your mask/PPE on. Products like petroleum jelly, Aquaphor or CeraVe healing ointment provide the extra protective barrier to your skin and reduce risk of a skin rash. Before putting your mask/PPE on, rub the emollient onto the areas where your skin is most likely to be rubbed, such as the bridge of the nose, the cheekbones, your jawline or behind your ears. You can also use an over-the-counter gel-like product called Duoderm, which helps reduce friction on your skin.
If you are using a reusable mask, make sure to wash it after you’ve worn it for a number of hours. The oils, sweat and skin cells from your face can build up in the fabric of the mask and rub back into your skin, clogging pores and causing break-outs. Wash your masks in hot water unless the instructions direct differently. Use a fragrance free soap and check to make sure your mask still fits properly after you’ve washed it.
When you can, take off your mask for a bit to let your skin cool off, dry off from sweat and be friction-free. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a 15-minute break every 4 hours. Splash your face with cool water and pat it dry to provide some relief.
If you are able to choose your mask fabric, choose one that is made from breathable, soft and natural fabric, such as cotton. Avoid synthetic fabrics, as these can trap moisture inside your mask and lead to inflammation. Breathability of fabric doesn’t have to compromise the effectiveness of the mask if your mask is made up of multiple layers of fabric, as the CDC recommends.
Your mask should fit snugly, but also comfortably. Make sure the mask fits well on your nose, under your chin and along the sides of your face. A too-tight and too-loose fit can create skin irritation as the fabric slides around on your face. You’re also more likely to repeatedly touch your face if your mask is uncomfortable.
Makeup underneath a mask is more prone to clog your pores. You don’t have to forego makeup, but if you choose to wear it, use products that are oil-free or non-comedogenic. Use concealers and foundation that are lighter and water-based.
Get in touch with Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. The board-certified dermatologists at Vanguard can offer expert advice and treatment for any of your skin care needs, as well as provide procedures in cosmetic dermatology.