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The Face Mask-Skin Conundrum

July 6th, 2020


Carpenters, nail technicians, and surgeons alike are no strangers to the woes of protective face coverings. For the rest of us, though, the rise of COVID-19 has given new meaning to the term ‘face mask,’ transforming it from skincare savior to clear skin saboteur. Wearing a protective face covering day in and day out has many of us experiencing mask-induced acne (a.k.a maskne), irritation, and a whole host of other complexion concerns. Learning how to avoid, or at least minimize the skin impact of covering up can help make this new way of life less irritating and more sustainable. After all, face masks are essential to slow the spread of the virus, but they only work if you actually wear them.  

We all want to be safe and adhere to government guidelines, but how can we protect our health without damaging our skin? The answer will depend on the specifics of your face, your mask, and your lifestyle, but there are several things to take into account when dealing with the skin-related side effects of life behind a mask. Read on for a list of tips to help you protect yourself without wreaking havoc on your face. 


Material Matters

Synthetic? Breathable? Smooth to the touch or textured and rough? You wouldn’t stand for scratchy knitwear rubbing up against your arms all day, so why let harsh materials wrap around your nose and cling to your chin? Surprisingly enough, friction—in addition to causing irritation and sensitivity—might actually be to blame for your sudden breakouts. This phenomenon, which we call ‘maskne,’ is known by derms as ‘acne mechanica,’ and is common among athletes who wear protective gear.

If you’re suffering from mask-related breakouts or irritation, try switching to a smoother-textured material. Keep in mind that tightly-woven fibers tend to filter out particles more effectively. Consider a skin-friendly option made from high-thread-count cotton or washable silk, both of which are soft to the touch and won’t leave you with ‘mask burn’ where your nose and mouth should be. A word of caution: if you live in a hot climate, you might find that cotton and silk retain too much humidity, resulting in swamp face from the nose down. Sound familiar? Skip cotton and silk. Instead, opt for face masks made from moisture-wicking synthetic fabric, like the kind used to make your favorite yoga pants. Your skin will stay cooler, drier, and less irritated because of it. 


Hygiene, Hygiene, Hygiene

Selecting the right mask is only half the battle. At the end of the day, if you don’t practice proper mask hygiene, your skin could suffer. What is proper mask hygiene, you ask? In the words of  dermatologist Candrice Heath (when speaking to the New York Times last month), “treat [your mask] like underwear and wash it frequently.” Always launder between uses to prevent dirt and bacteria from building up and causing breakouts. While we’re on the subject of laundry, beware of fabric softeners and heavily-fragranced detergents, which have been known to cause trouble for sensitive skins. 


Skin Care is Self Care

Congratulations! You’ve upgraded to a low-irritation mask and promised to diligently wash it between uses. What more could you possibly do, right? Wrong! Cleansing, treating, and caring for your skin are always non-negotiables when it comes to the look and feel of your face. Somewhat ironically, though, wearing a face mask makes caring for the skin underneath it that much more important. Continue to cleanse and moisturize your skin daily. If you thrive off of thick, unctuous creams, reserve them for bedtime and stick with a thin layer of light lotion between you and your mask. If you’re a foundation fanatic, consider going bare faced, at least under your mask. Lipstick, blush, concealer, and foundation can soil both reusable and disposable masks, potentially interfering with their ability to filter out water droplets. 

In all likelihood, we’ll probably still be covering up for many months to come. Shop around for a mask that you don’t hate wearing and stick to a routine that helps protect both you and your skin. You got this, LIV fam! 

Written by Cleo Gold

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