Wearing masks helps prevent the spread of Covid-19, but they can also wreak havoc with your skin. While not wearing a mask isn’t an option, keeping your skin in tip-top condition definitely is.
No matter what type of mask you’re using, it causes friction on your skin and traps heat and moisture from your breath. This disrupts the skin’s barrier function and worsens any existing skin problem you might have.
The barrier function helps protect your skin from external factors such as pollution, chemicals and allergens. It also protects the skin from the inside out by preventing loss of water. Wearing a mask also alters the pH of the skin. A disrupted barrier function and unbalanced pH could result in:
- Friction that damages the outer protective layer of the skin, making it more sensitive.
- An allergic reaction from contact with a mask (dermatitis).
- “Maskne” – breakouts caused by wearing a mask.
- Dryness, which leads to wrinkles.
HOW TO COMBAT THESE ISSUES
Your mask should fit firmly and shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. When wearing a mask, friction is likely to happen on your chin, on the bridge of your nose and behind your ears. This causes redness and sensitivity. Left untreated, this could cause an infection.
If you’re experiencing friction, apply a thin layer of zinc oxide onto the irritated areas. This will act as a barrier between the mask and your skin without affecting the function of the mask. Petroleum jelly serves the same purpose. You can also make use of a thin bandage on the areas where the friction occurs to relieve pressure and prevent friction.
This may come in the form of a rash or pimples.
“Barrier impairment due to mechanical irritation is a major driver of pimples under masks, and moisture and heat from your breath are also trapped inside your mask,” says Karen Bester, medical trainer at beauty house Lamelle.
This not only stresses the skin but also allows bacteria and dirt to enter the skin, resulting in a breakout.
The key is to gently and thoroughly cleanse to keep bacteria at bay.
Look out for cleansers with salicylic acid for deep-cleansing properties and exfoliate regularly to help reduce oil production.
Use a soothing hydrating moisturiser to help restore moisture levels in the skin and repair the barrier function. Anything with hyaluronic acid will help restore and retain moisture in the skin.
ALLERGIC CONTACT DERMATITIS
This occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant, resulting in redness or a rash. Other symptoms include flaky skin, sun sensitivity and swelling.
Although the rash isn’t contagious, it can be itchy and uncomfortable. In this case, your skin may be developing an allergic reaction to the material of the mask or the detergent used to wash the mask.
The solution is to wear cotton masks and avoid any synthetic materials. You should also use a mild detergent to clean your mask and avoid anything that’s too strong or highly fragranced. Wash your mask daily if you’re using it often to avoid build up of bacteria on the mask.
When skin is continuously rubbed against by an irritating material that traps heat and moisture, it will be prone to dryness.
Restoring, retaining and preserving moisture is key. Use a face wash and moisturiser that contain hyaluronic acid. The face wash gently cleanses without stripping the skin, and the moisturiser restores moisture.
Apply sunscreen and then a barrier cream on the area where you’re likely to experience dryness. Moisturise your nose and lips as well before wearing your mask to prevent them from getting dry.
Keep your mask clean. Masks traps oil and dirt, and if you don’t wash yours regularly, you’re putting hours – or even days – of dirt back onto your skin each time you wear it.
Avoid products with a high percentage of active ingredients as these become volatile under heat and moisture, and this could cause further disruptions on your skin.
Be patient with any symptoms of unhappiness from your skin. Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, your skin will gradually return to normal. Don’t be tempted to find quick fixes.
If you’re in the car alone, take off your mask. The trapped air and heat inside the vehicle will only make matters worse.
If your skin problems keep worsening no matter what you try, make an appointment with a dermatologist.
OTHER FACTORS THAT MIGHT MAKE THINGS WORSE
- Fidgeting with your mask causes more contact with your skin than normal. This results in increased friction and puts more bacteria in contact with your skin. Find a mask that fits snugly so you don’t have to keep adjusting it.
- Not cleaning your skin properly also affects the way your skin behaves. Well-cleansed skin is the first and most important step to healthy skin. If you don’t cleanse properly, your skin won’t absorb the products you apply properly.
- Makeup under your mask clogs pores, so try to avoid it completely. Your skin won’t be able to breathe under the makeup and the trapped heat and moisture from the mask. If you need a bit of coverage, try tinted sunscreen and a bit of concealer here and there where your face is exposed.
Extra sources: instyle.com, healthline.com, glamour.com, lamelle.co.za