May 9, 2022 ۰ 10 min read
To Mask or Not To Mask:
The Question is
How Do I Care for My Skin?
As if we didn’t have enough skin problems before the coronavirus became a global pandemic, we have had to deal with skin issues introduced by face masks. Face masks have played a vital role in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Mask guidelines have come and gone and come back again in certain places. Masks are still essential protection for healthcare workers and hospitality and service industry professionals. Masks can cause skin problems that range from acne and peeling skin to rashes and itchiness. But there are things you can do to prevent problems and to treat existing ones.
Face masks have been known to cause many skin problems. If you have a skin condition already, like seborrhoeic dermatitis, prolonged mask-wearing may cause increased itching, redness, and peeling. But even if you didn’t have a skin condition before, skin can be compromised due to the increased humidity and temperature when breathing under a face mask. Dr. Anna Chien, M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medicine says, “One thing we’re seeing more often these days is perioral dermatitis, a condition similar to rosacea.”1 This is a red, bumpy rash around the mouth, chin, and even the eyes most common in women ages 20-60.1 There may also be mechanical rubbing or pressure applied by face masks that can cause skin issues, especially around the nose and behind the ears.
To help prevent skin problems from developing under your mask, here are some simple tips.
Skin Care Tips When Masking
The American Academy of Dermatologists has several recommendations for masked skin.2
For any skin type, be gentle with your skin care to prevent skin problems. When washing your face, use a mild, non-abrasive, fragrance-free cleanser without alcohol (use the scIQ app to find face wash without alcohol) and wash with lukewarm water. Massage the face cleanser in with your fingers only. Scrubbing will irritate your skin especially when scrubbing with a washcloth or mesh sponge. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry. Washing your face should be limited to twice a day and after sweating. Immediately apply moisturizer after washing your face to hold in moisture.
For sensitive skin that tends to have acne, prevent breakouts from your moisturizer by using a moisturizer formulated for your skin type. You can use the scIQ app to find a moisturizer that works for your skin type. Some suggestions are that when selecting moisturizer, oily skin types (or others that are irritated when the weather is hot or humid) should use a gel moisturizer. Normal or combination skin types should use a lotion-based moisturizer. Dry skin types should use a cream that includes ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and dimethicone. Moisturizer can be applied before and after wearing a mask.
Similarly, to avoid breakouts, skip the makeup when wearing a mask. Under a mask, makeup is more likely to clog pores and lead to acne. If you still must wear makeup below the mask, use products labeled as non-comedogenic that won’t clog pores.
Dermatologists also recommend avoiding new skin care products that could irritate your skin or to use less of products if your skin becomes irritated, especially with mask-wearing which makes your skin more sensitive. You should especially avoid or reduce use of harsh products such as chemical peels, leave-on salicylic acid, aftershave, exfoliants, or retinoids for the first time or at higher concentrations than you are used to.
Under a mask, your lips can become neglected. You should protect your lips by applying a petroleum jelly to your lips (and only on your lips) after washing your face, before putting on your mask, and before bed.
Wear the right mask and wear it right
Masks should have a snug, comfortable fit, with (at least) two layers of fabric. The mask should be snug, meaning not too tight that it leaves marks on your skin or so loose that it slides around because the sliding could irritate your skin. A snug mask will reduce how often you adjust your mask and touch your face which increases the probability of transferring dirt and germs to your face.
The layer of fabric that rests against your face should be a soft, natural, breathable fabric such as cotton. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, or rayon should be avoided against the face as they are more likely to cause irritation.
Face masks should also not be worn for long periods of time. You should take a break from wearing the face mask at least every 4 hours.
Fabric face masks should be washed after each use to remove oils, skin cells, and other debris that may collect inside the mask and could result in a skin reaction. They should be washed following given instructions, but if possible the best would be if it was washed in hot water and with detergent that is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic to prevent a skin reaction or to avoid exacerbating a reaction.
Dr. Chien says that “any skin breakdown that doesn’t heal despite home treatment, rashes that are spreading or worsening, and any signs of infection warrant a call to the doctor.” She says it may be possible for some conditions to be diagnosed and managed with a telemedicine appointment.1
As the masks are coming off, hopefully, these tips prevent you from having any skin reactions that can occur with wearing a mask. If you still develop skin sensitivity, following a lot of the same tips can help to treat those skin conditions. For persistent skin problems, the American Academy of Dermatologists has a lot of great information about skin conditions and treatment options.2 Face masks may cause skin problems but it is important to overcome such concerns and protect yourself and others. We hope these tips help you, and we wish you great skin every day!
- Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Coronavirus: Tips to Avoid ‘Maskne’ Skin Irritation” 2020.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association, “9 ways to prevent face mask skin problems” 2022.
Michele Temple-Wong is co-founder, CEO, and writer-contributor to Skin Care IQ.