How to protect your skin from face mask irritation

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of change in our daily lives, and you may have even noticed changes to your skin. In April 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear cloth masks to help slow the spread of the virus, especially when going into crowded places where maintaining social distancing is difficult.

Wearing masks for extended periods can lead to skin irritation, rashes and acne. In more serious cases, such as healthcare workers wearing N95 masks, it can lead to the breakdown of the skin and result in bruising. 

So, how do you follow safety guidelines and protect your skin? Andrew Newman, DO, a dermatologist and independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff, shares a few things that you can do to reduce these unwanted side effects.

Choose the right fabric

It is crucial to pay attention to how your face mask is built as well as the material it is made of. Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon and rayon. They tend to trap sweat underneath the mask, which can lead to breakouts and irritation. 

For sensitive skin, it is best to go with a 100% cotton face mask. It should be tightly woven to effectively block microbes from the outside. If you are creating your own mask, you can use a thicker weave on the outside and a softer blend on the inside to protect your skin.

Cleanse and moisturize routinely  

Wash your face before and after wearing any facial covering. Use a gentle cleanser and follow with a thick moisturizing cream. Your cleanser and moisturizer should be non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t block pores) and fragrance-free. If you are experiencing breakouts, a cleanser with salicylic acid will help. 

Wearing a face mask for a long amount of time may dry out your skin and cause dermatitis. If you are wearing a mask for long hours, it is a good idea to reapply a moisturizer every few hours throughout the day. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before applying it.

An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can be used to treat itching, redness and inflammation, if needed.

Wash face masks and alternate them

It’s important to wash your face mask after each use because it will start to collect germs and sweat. This helps to ensure that your mask is sanitary, and it also helps to protect your skin.  Get (or make!) a few masks so that you can always have a clean one on hand. Use hot water and soap to clean your masks. Avoid using detergent and dryer sheets with fragrances as they can cause skin irritation.

Avoid harsh skin products and makeup

If you are experiencing breakouts, a rash or dermatitis from face masks, it is best to lay off harsh cleansers, exfoliators, and drying skin products that contain alcohol and retinol. These products dry the skin and make it more likely that your face mask will rub and cause damage to your skin. 

Refrain from using heavy and oily products such as foundation and other makeup products. Face masks can rub, remove makeup and trap it underneath your mask. This can block pores and make acne breakouts worse. If you do wear makeup, be sure that it is non-comedogenic, so it does not clog your pores.

Use zinc oxide where your face mask rubs

Diaper rash cream, or zinc oxide, is a great product that you can use to reduce abrasion and inflammation as well as prevent irritation. Put some on your nasal bridge, chin, behind your ears and other areas where your face mask rubs before wearing. This will provide a protective barrier and keep your skin from chafing.

Sometimes your mask can leave marks and patches. This is especially true for healthcare workers wearing medical-grade face masks. Before bedtime, use a petroleum skin protectant to treat the skin and lock in extra moisture. This can also be used before wearing your mask to reduce abrasion. 

If you are still experiencing dermatitis, redness, itching or inflammation, contact your dermatologist to schedule an appointment. In many cases, your dermatologist can do a video visit to address your concerns.

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