Maskne: How to Take Care of Your Skin While Wearing a Face Mask

As we adjust to the important (and in some places mandatory) act of wearing a mask during the current global health crisis, our skin is also adjusting. Though very much necessary, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported a 97 percent rate of skin damage enhanced by infection-prevention measures among front line medical workers in Hubei, China.

While the bruises and skin injuries documented by some frontline workers come from the necessity of wearing personal protective equipment at a tight fit for the entirety of their long shifts, cloth masks or other face coverings used by the general public will also impact each person’s skin differently. If you’re experiencing “maskne” or other skin irritations, know you’re not alone. We asked experts how to take care of our skin during this new normal.

How Will Wearing a Mask Impact My Skin?

While this answer will be different for different skin types, Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, has seen a “huge uptick” in patients experiencing new facial rashes and breakouts due to wearing face masks. “Masks have both direct and indirect effects on the skin,” he says. “Direct friction causes disruption of the outer skin layer, leading to dryness and irritation. Masks also trap humidity, sweat, and oil on the skin contributing to acne breakouts and worsening of conditions like rosacea.”

Shani Darden, an esthetician and founder of Shani Darden Skincare, has also noticed an increase in breakouts and overall irritation when conducting virtual consultations with nurses. “The hot, moist environment under a mask is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can end up leading to breakouts,” she says.

Should I Change My Skincare Routine?

Dr. Zeichner warns us not to go “overboard” in trying out a new skincare routine during this time as “too much experimenting will inevitably lead to skin irritation”. However, he recommends washing your face with gentle, hydrating cleansers if you don’t already. Dr. Zeichner reminds us of the importance of moisturizing regularly during this time. “If your skin is already irritated, then wearing a mask on top of it can make matters worse,” he says. “Think of your moisturizer as a protective seal over the surface of the skin to lock in hydration.”

Darden also emphasizes using a gentle cleanser twice a day. She also encourages the limited use of active ingredients while wearing masks. “If you are experiencing irritation, aloe is amazing at calming the skin and can be used while you’re wearing the mask,” she says. “Follow that up with sunscreen if it’s during the day or a great moisturizer for your skin type if it’s at night.”

What About My Mask?

“It is important to wash your face mask regularly. Having more than one mask will allow you to switch off while you’re doing the laundry,” says Dr. Zeichner. He also cautions us to be careful in choosing a detergent, as masks come into direct contact with the skin. “You should use a detergent that is fragrance and dye-free to avoid potential skin allergies,” he says. “Also, make sure not to overload your washing machine with too much detergent. Using too much means that detergent molecules can become embedded within the fibers of the mask itself and lead to direct irritation.”

Can I Wear Makeup Underneath?

Both Dr. Zeichner and Darden don’t recommend wearing makeup under a mask. “It isn’t necessary and can potentially lead to more issues with breakouts and irritation. It’s best to focus on keeping the skin hydrated and comfortable while wearing a mask,” Darden says. A tinted moisturizer or serum should be okay, says Dr. Zeichner, but anything heavier can “become trapped on the skin by the mask, contributing to acne breakouts”.

Should I Still Be Wearing Sunscreen?

Wearing sunscreen, says Darden, is one of the most important things to make sure still to do. “It should still be an essential part of your daytime skin care routine as UV rays,” she says. Dr. Zeichner expects to see “Covid tan lines this summer”, where the face is tan except for the area where the mask covers the skin. To combat this, he recommends looking for a sunscreen with zinc oxide, a mineral blocker that reflects UV light. “Besides UV protection, zinc oxide also has skin protecting benefits,” he says.

Even when not wearing a mask while inside, Dr. Zeichner reiterates that we are “not off the hook in wearing sunscreen”. “We know that UVA light penetrates right through window glass, putting your skin at risk for some damage even if you are indoors,” he says. Plus, blue light emitted from your light bulbs and electronic devices has been shown to cause premature aging of the skin. The same mineral face sunscreen that protects you outdoors will also do double duty against blue light.”

While it seems there’s no immediate need to entirely switch up our regular skincare routines, both experts agree on a few important steps to protect your skin from irritation while wearing a mask. These are: washing your face with a gentle cleanser twice a day, moisturizing regularly, washing your mask, and sunscreen. If any of these steps are new for you, it’s important to not feel daunted and remember that the most important thing is that by wearing a mask you’re helping to protect your community. Learning how to take care of our skin as we do so will be an ongoing process.

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