Face masks will likely remain an essential part of our getup for the foreseeable future. They are an important step in stopping the spread of the virus, but they also present their own set of troubling side effects.
While many of us have since invested in masks that marry form and function, it seems the chicest offerings can’t combat our most pressing skin issues when it comes to extended mask wear. This is why our skincare routines now require some recalibrating.
To find out how we should adjust our skincare routines to this new normal, Daily Vanity reached out to Dr Coni Liu at DS Skin & Wellness Clinic and Dr Mark Tang at The Skin Specialists & Laser Clinic.
Keep reading to see what you should be implementing above the neck, from swapping out heavy moisturisers to swapping your mask out midday.
How extended mask wear affects your skin
A mask can trap your breath, which creates a moist, hot environment for your skin on the lower half of your face. As Dr Tang explains, “Prolonged wearing of face masks can lead to increased friction, pressure, trapping of heat, humidity, moisture, and even bacteria, leading to the worsening of facial rashes and acne.”
In recent months, both dermatologists have noticed a surge in patients with mask-related skin issues. “Masks can worsen skin issues that already exist or cause new ones. This results in various types of skin issues like contact dermatitis, friction dermatitis, and acne mechanica – also known as “maskne” now,” Dr Coni Liu shares.
How to switch up your skincare routine with extended mask wear
1. Keep it simple
Streamline your skincare regimen and skip as many steps as possible in the morning if you’re going to don a mask for an extended period of time. “Stick to a basic routine: a gentle cleanser, oil-free moisturiser, and sunblock. What we apply to the face will be rubbed between the mask and the skin, so the less product the better,” Dr Liu advises.
“If acne or bacterial hair follicle infection (folliculitis) is the problem, I would recommend washing with a gentle, non-foaming, antiseptic wash at the start of the day, and even at mid-day, to reduce bacterial load,” Dr Tang shares. “I would also avoid heavy, occlusive moisturisers, and recommend ultra-light, water-based ones.”
Used to wearing makeup all day? You may want to skip the base makeup too. Under a mask, foundations and concealers with heavier textures and formulas have a higher chance of clogging your pores and causing skin irritation. Try to get creative on your eyes instead. Check out these trending eye makeup looks that you can wear with a face mask, as demonstrated by five professional makeup artists.
2. The material of your mask matters
At this point, you’ve likely seen and heard about a host of different mask options, from N95 respirators and surgical masks to friction-reducing silk coverings. While these are effective to varying degrees, it’s important to know how different materials will affect your skin differently.
“We need to find a balance between the protection and the breathability of the mask. For example, the N95 gives you the highest protection but the greatest occlusion,” Dr Liu explains. “A good compromise, I think, would be 100% cotton for some protection while allowing the skin to breathe.”
Dr Tang says that changing your mask to one that’s made of a softer material is a good idea, but only “if the problem is related to contact allergy or constant friction from wearing the mask.” Above all else, be sure to wash your reusable mask frequently and wear it properly when you step out of the house.
3. Change out your mask during the day
To prevent the overgrowth of bacteria and reduce the chance of inflammation, change out your mask for a clean one after you’ve worn it for several hours. Dr Liu says that if there’s an accumulation of sweat, changing your mask in the middle of the day would be a good idea.
“If the problem is related to bacteria overgrowth or moisture trapping, then it may help to change the mask more frequently,” Dr Tang agrees. Before you put on a fresh face mask, you may also want to wash your face with water or a gentle cleanser to rid your skin of excess sweat and dirt.
4. Wear sunscreen even under your mask
Wearing sunscreen has always been important, but now that we have masks to shield the lower half of our faces, some of us may think it’s okay to forgo the SPF. So should we actually skip this step in our skincare routine? Well, both dermatologists don’t think so.
“Most masks are not made with proper UV filtering material and do not provide adequate UV protection,” Dr Tang shares. “So, if the UV exposure is expected to be intense, for instance, a prolonged outdoor activity in the mid-day sun, I would still recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen on the entire face. But more importantly, wear a wide brim hat or carry an umbrella!”
We posed the same question to Holly Thaggard, the founder of suncare brand Supergoop!. “It really depends on the material that you’re using for your mask. If you’re wearing a white mask with a loose weave, you’re going to allow more UV rays to come in through your mask than if you’re wearing a tightly-woven, black mask,” she explains. “It’s way more important to have the first coat of broad-spectrum UV protection on.”
5. Apply Vaseline on high-friction points
If you’re already experiencing a bit of irritation or redness with extended mask wear, you may want to invest in a tub of Vaseline, which contains petroleum jelly. “Healthcare workers who need to wear tight-fitting masks are at the highest risk of friction dermatitis from the masks at pressure points. In their case, Vaseline may help to alleviate the friction points,” Dr Liu says.
Dr Tang adds, “Vaseline can be applied to high-pressure points such as the ear creases, where constant pressure of the ear loops can cause painful fissures and frictional dermatitis.” However, you shouldn’t apply Vaseline on blemish-prone areas of your face, as it may worsen clogged pores and acne. “It can compromise on the protective quality of your mask by altering its filtering ability,” he warns.
If your skin is still irritated and breaking out despite your best efforts, we recommend you seek professional help from a dermatologist. Proper medical treatment can certainly help to reduce the severity and complications of mask-related skin issues. You may have an allergy that needs to be identified too.