Wash. Rinse. Repeat: How – and why – you should clean your mask after each use, according to experts

Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images
  • Wearing masks in order to reduce the risk of coronavirus has come with a few considerations to always keep in mind with regards to maximising their efficacy.
  • From wearing them correctly to keeping them clean to protecting your skin. 
  • Here, experts advise on how to clean your masks as well as how to treat your skin should you find yourself with a mask-induced breakout. 

Ever since we ditched our favourite shades of lipstick in exchange for cloth masks, we've taken comfort in the barrier between our immune systems and infectious droplets. Women also finally have a break from men telling us to smile. Who would've thought the day would ever come, right?

But there are still serious considerations to keep in mind as a means of ensuring for the optimal efficacy of masks, so that we may eventually have something to actually smile about months from now.

In a separate W24 article, we shared an expert's advice on how to wear your mask correctly, who also encouraged us to wash our masks as often as possible. 

"Wash your mask frequently with hot water and detergent and allow it to dry completely. Don’t wear it when wet. Also, don’t wear the same mask for long periods or repeat occasions without washing it thoroughly in between, and always store it in a clean, dry place," Pathologist Susan Louw said.

READ MORE: These are the most common mistakes people are still making when wearing protective masks

So today we'd like to expand on this advice by sharing the how with you. 

Kirsten Koehler, an occupational and public health expert who is an associate professor in environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, spoke to Vogue and revealed that we ought to be washing our masks after each use

Here's why: 

"It’s essential that you’re not walking around with a dirty mask as it could potentially contain respiratory droplets that evaporate into lingering particles, which could potentially expose those in close proximity to you," the public health expert explained. 

"According to Koehler, you can include your face covering as part of your regular laundry with a gentle detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the fabric of your cloth mask. If you’re washing a cloth mask by hand, keep the CDC-recommended handwashing technique in mind," Vogue reports. 

The CDC-recommended technique requires one to scrub an item for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. You must then dry the item in a warm place before reuse. 

READ MORE: This is how you should be washing your clothing and bedding in the thick of the coronavirus pandemic 

If you are unable to wash your mask immediately after each use, Kirsten notes that it's okay to place it in a paper bag only (not a plastic bag) and keep it in a warm place – preferably a window that attracts sunlight. You may then wear the mask again after two days, as any particles on the mask will have dried completely, allowing for the "virus to become inactive".  

"It’s essential that you’re not walking around with a dirty mask as it could potentially contain respiratory droplets that evaporate into lingering particles, which could potentially expose those in close proximity to you," she says.

I have pimples from wearing a face mask – now what? 

So you've been diligent and wearing your mask correctly, and washing it regularly, but now there's another pesky little matter to address. Your skin is breaking out. 

Remember we told you about 'mask-ne'? This is redness, irritation and acne caused by wearing masks for prolonged periods of time. In light of this, Karen Bester, Lamelle medical trainer, told W24 everything you need to know about treating it.

This is what she shared:

While wearing a mask is absolutely essential to protect yourself from spreading or contracting Covid-19, the downfall of wearing one is that the skin does not always take too kindly to it. A lot of people are complaining bitterly that they are getting the worst breakouts when they wear PPE masks. But how are masks contributing to increased breakouts? 

There are various factors at play. The most common are as follows: 

- Mechanical irritation of the mask rubbing on the skin causes increased, but not complete, exfoliation.

- Barrier impairment due to this mechanical irritation is a major driver of pimples under masks. We also see this happening on the hairline when you wear a cap or hat regularly.

- Moisture and heat from your breath is also trapped inside your mask on your skin. This can have a little bit of a “macerating” effect (like when you lie in the bath too long).

- Inflammation associated with the mechanical irritation.

- If you have a tendency to get acne, the inflammatory response is exacerbated by your genetic make-up.

- The current stress levels that we are experiencing also add to the problem.  

READ MORE: Your protective face mask might be causing your skin to breakout - How to deal with 'Mask-ne’

How do you treat mask-ne? 

1. The first and most important point is to keep safe and do not stop wearing your mask.

2. Keep your skin barrier supported by using Lamelle Serra Soothing or Restore Cream or a trusted professional skincare cream of your choice. Apply a little bit more to the area of skin under your PPE mask to ensure the area is hydrated. You can combine this with the routine you are currently using. A repaired and healthy skin barrier will help prevent further breakouts.

3. Cleanse your skin twice daily. This must be a critical part of your routine any day and can be done with any cleanser. Cleansing ensures dirt, make-up, bacteria and impurities are removed from the skin.

4. Apply Lamelle’s Clarity Active Control Spot Treatment (R130.00) to the areas where you already have a spot. This will treat the inflammation and help to heal the skin as quickly as possible. Fast healing prevents post-inflammatory pigmentation (dark marks) and also scarring. Start applying it as soon as you see a red spot forming. You should apply this twice daily at a minimum. It could be applied more regularly so carry one in your handbag or pocket so it is always close. 

how to wash your mask

Image supplied on behalf of Lamelle 

5. Do not pick! As difficult as it may be, picking at a spot is a total no-go. It most likely will lead to scarring, and can even lead to infection. 

Note: If your mask-induced breakout gets worse or spreads to an area that is not covered by your mask please seek professional help.  

Keys, phone... more masks 

Seeing as we're required to wash our masks after each use, we've included a few more masks to shop from local brands, in order to ensure we all have backup.  

Southern Soul Face Mask with geometric print, R50 on Faithful to Nature     

how to wash your mask

Check Lurex Mask, R69 at Jo Borkett  

how to wash your mask

Fabric 2-Layer Face Mask 3-pack with filter, R99 at Poetry  

how to wash your mask

Maxhosa Mask 5, R600 at Maxhosa Africa 

how to wash your mask

Additional information provided by Lamelle Laboratories 

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