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Face Masks and Your Skin: 6 Top Tips to Prevent Problems

This time last year, if we’d mentioned face masks, you’d have assumed we meant a skin treatment. A moment of self-care. Thoughts of bubble baths and a glass of wine might have come to mind.

Now we know better. Since the pandemic hit and face masks were made mandatory, we’ve accepted that PPE isn’t going anywhere.

The trouble is, it can cause problems for the skin on your face. Not exclusive to those who’ve had issues before, we’re now hearing new terms like maskne and doing what we can to keep our faces and skin clear.


What is wearing a face mask doing to my skin?

Pile of face masks on wood surface

In short, quite a lot. Wearing a covering on your face can prevent your skin from being able to breathe, as air can’t circulate behind your mask.

The condensation formed inside your face mask can also increase the amount of surface bacteria on your face, since we exhale enormous amounts with each breath.

Wearing a mask can also cause irritation when worn at length, thanks to the friction created when we breathe or speak.

Unfortunately, though necessary, face masks create a terrible environment for your skin. For short periods of time, we can overlook this. But if you’re a key worker and required to wear one at length, it’s likely the side effects are showing on your face.

If you’ve had skin concerns in the past such as acne, dermatitis, eczema or rosacea, then you might find that wearing a face mask for a prolonged period has worsened your condition.

Since masks are here to stay, we’ve put together some tips to help you keep your skin as healthy as possible.


Tip #1 – Choose the Right Mask

One of the most important things to help your skin breath is to select the right mask.

While choosing one with a lovely pattern on it can seem like a good idea, it’s more important to check that the fit and material are right. Your mask should be close-fitting and snug enough not to slip down your nose and tuck under your chin.

If you’re struggling to find one that’s right for you, look for one with adjustable ear bands. These can help you ensure it fits correctly. If you’re a glasses wearer, we’d also recommend opting for a mask with a nose wire, as it can be difficult to see well otherwise.

Choosing the correct material is important too. In a reusable mask, it’s better to choose natural cotton or silk, as these are softer on the skin and more breathable. Avoid synthetic fabrics, but make sure your mask has two layers to maximise the protection it provides.

If you prefer single-use masks, try to choose cotton-based ones.


Tip #2 – Keep Your Mask Clean

When you remove your mask, all the bacteria from the air you were breathing remains on the fabric. Washing your mask regularly is important, as it keeps the bacteria retained on your mask away from your skin. Try to have at least two masks, so you can rotate them as you wash one and wear the other.

It’s also important to remember that most washing powders, gels and fabric softeners weren’t designed with the face in mind. Look for the gentlest one available to reduce the risk of irritation from your detergent.

You can wash your mask by hand, but washing in a machine at a high temperature is preferable. This will ensure your mask is thoroughly cleaned of bacteria, oils and dead skin cells left behind on the fabric.


Tip #3 – Boost Your Skincare Routine

Woman in dressing gown at table, hands on face

Your skincare is crucial. Sticking to your usual routine might not be enough, given that the environment around your face has changed dramatically. Regular use of a face mask is likely to increase the risk of acne and breakouts, so you’ll need to invest more time in your skincare.

Choose high quality, pH balanced products and try to cleanse your face before and after wearing a mask.

Many people have reported that face masks have caused them to have dry skin around their face and mouth. As such, don’t skip the moisturiser. Look for one that absorbs well and works for your skin type, preferably with hyaluronic acid, ceramides or dimethicone.

Avoid using strong soaps or exfoliators where you can and be gentle to your skin. If your skin flares up even so, make sure to treat your skin quickly.

For tears or breaks in the skin, such as around the edges of the mouth and nose, try zinc oxide.

Adding antioxidants into your routine is also a good idea, such as vitamin C. This will also help to repair skin cells that are damaged from prolonged mask wear.

A cleanser with salicylic acid can also function as a gentle way to treat breakouts. This will cleanse deeply into your pores whilst reducing sebum (oil) production.

It can also be beneficial to stop wearing make-up for a while, if you usually do so. Make-up under a mask is just another ingredient for clogging your pores and increasing the humidity. Your skin will breathe more easily without it and be less likely to break out.


Tip #4 – Limit Your Mask Use (Where Possible)

Woman enjoying fresh air, mask-free

As of early 2021, it’s still the law to wear a face mask in places such as shops and on public transport. But where you can, try to take the mask off and let your skin breath.

While your mask is off, keep it aired out. Let it dry so that any bacteria on the fabric will die off. Which means try not to put it away as soon as you take it off. Put it to one side for a while.

You should also try to keep your mask in a clean place when you aren’t using it and wash your hands before you put it on.


Tip #5 – Opt for a Barrier Cream

If you find that your skin is growing irritated or sore from wearing a face mask, try using a barrier cream to reduce the friction the fabric creates.

Using moisturiser throughout the day will help to reduce rubbing from your face mask. Since rubbing causes the top layers of your skin to release water, you’ll find your skin growing dry as it loses its natural moisture. As such, an oil-free, non-comedogenic product can provide an additional barrier without clogging the pores.

For rashes and dry skin, choose healing and soothing creams, particularly if you’re prone to irritation. Try to use balms or oils that are calming on the skin, rather than strong chemicals.


Tip #6 – Take it One Day at a Time

Face masks have quickly become a part of our everyday lives, but that doesn’t mean your skin will adapt as quickly as you have.

You might find that your skin reacts in ways you wouldn’t expect, but the important thing is to follow the above tips and keep an eye on your skin. What works for one person won’t work for everyone. You’ll probably find that adjustments need to be made depending on your choice of mask and how often you wear it.

Still, improving your skincare routine and paying extra attention to your mask and your skincare products can make a real difference. In time, you’ll see the benefits of doing so. It just takes a little patience.