How to keep your face mask from irritating your skin
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Over a year has gone by since the first mask recommendations were made for Americans. And since then, many of us have gotten used to the new normal of wearing masks in our everyday lives. Though mask requirements have lessened over time, it doesn't look like face masks are disappearing for good anytime soon. New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone, including vaccinated folks, start wearing masks again when indoors in areas of high transmission.
While we know wearing face masks can help prevent the spread of the virus, they can lead to skin irritation while doing so, especially when wearing one for an extended period of time. "Having to wear a mask for 13 hours is hard," Kayla F., a nurse in Washington, D.C. says. "It's uncomfortable on my ears and nose and it also chafes my face and has led to a lot of breakouts on my chin and lower cheeks."
To help you stay safe while also keeping your skin nice and healthy, we asked a dermatologist along with our own beauty expert for their top tips on preventing (and treating) skin irritation caused by face masks.
How face masks can irritate your skin
Anything that rubs against your face for hours on end is bound to cause some irritation—and face masks are no different. "When it comes to cloth or surgical masks, we are primarily seeing mild skin irritation, mild comedones (clogged pores), and reactions to the fabric itself," Allie McAllister, BSN, FNP-C, DCNP, explains. "While just wearing a mask can cause friction which can be irritating to the skin, the types of materials, dyes, and detergents in the mask can also cause irritation and rashes."
Besides rashes and chafing, face masks can also lead to breakouts. It makes sense when you think about it—your mask is creating a moist, warm environment against your skin, which is perfect for bacteria to thrive. "Breakouts can occur from sweat, dirt, and moisture being trapped under the mask," McAllister says.
How to protect your skin from your face mask
For starters, McAllister says you should always thoroughly wash your face before you put on your mask and after you take it off (she likes using Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser in particular because it's gentle and non-irritating). Then, McAllister recommends, "If you know you’ll be wearing your mask for a long period of time, I would suggest applying a thin layer of Aquaphor Healing Ointment to the areas that will come in direct contact with the mask."
You can also try an anti-chafing balm, like Body Glide's Face Glide, which claims to form a dry, invisible barrier that protects your skin from friction and rubbing without clogging pores. The Original Body Glide is a favorite of Reviewed staffers who run. Apply it on areas where your mask typically rubs against your skin, like the nose, cheeks, chin, or ears.
In addition, washing your face masks regularly is essential in minimizing irritation—the CDC recommends washing your face mask "whenever it gets dirty or at least daily". McAllister suggests using a detergent specifically for sensitive skin that's free of any dyes or perfumes, like All Free & Clear.
Bonus: If you have the luxury of picking and choosing your mask (or your materials), McAllister says the type of fabric can make a big difference in your mask's comfort. She recommends a soft cotton fabric that's more breathable than other alternatives.
How to treat skin irritation caused by face masks
McAllister says once again to start with Aquaphor if you notice any irritation or discomfort. However, she advises, "If the irritation is more severe or will not resolve with Aquaphor, I would suggest applying a hydrocortisone 1% ointment once a day for no longer than a week." And if even that doesn't help, McAllister says to see a dermatology provider.
As for breakouts, our own beauty editor and guru, Jessica Kasparian, has a few products she swears by. "If a blemish pops up, I love the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, which uses isopropyl alcohol to dry up pimples and calamine lotion to soothe," she says, adding, "I also love hydrocolloid patches like the CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patch set. They're clear dots that extract impurities while also creating a protective layer over the pimple so nothing else can irritate it." Jessica also says that she makes sure to focus on her chin and lower face when washing her face since that's the area covered by a mask.
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