Our skin’s negative reaction to masks is something we are all too familiar with. From irritation to acne, none of us are spared. With the weather only getting hotter, here are some easy tips to make wearing a mask just a little bit easier.
What skin issues are caused by wearing masks?
Depending on the type of mask, existing skin issues and the weather, many skin problems can arise. These different skin conditions are mainly due to an increase in heat, humidity and oiliness of the skin, leading to clogged pores, redness and irritation.
Acne is perhaps the most common skin condition encountered due to prolonged mask-wearing. Oiliness and clogged pores often cause the appearance of spots along the jawline and the facial area covered by the masks. The heat can also lead to excessive constant facial redness, swelling, spots and flushing, especially in people with pre-existing rosacea. The redness can also be accompanied by itchiness and peeling.
For some of us, we’re still not used to wearing masks and find ourselves (although we shouldn’t be) adjusting them constantly. The added friction may lead to irritant dermatitis, causing the upper cheeks and other contact areas to become itchy, red and scaly. Similar symptoms may also be the result of an allergic reaction to the material of the mask.
The issues encountered with N95 masks can be worse. Because the fit of the mask is tighter you may encounter a lot more friction issues, especially at the bridge of the nose at the lack of fresh oxygen inside the masks only make the various skin conditions worse. They are not meant to be worn for extended periods of time.
What are the solutions?
Type of masks
The dirt and oil accumulated on masks only worsens our breakouts. Using disposable masks gives you the option to switch it out regularly. Cloth masks may be an option for people who cannot tolerate the regular disposable masks due to skin reaction or irritation. However, one should be aware that the protection against coronavirus transmission may be suboptimal with cloth masks. It will be worthwhile to check the packaging instructions which come with different types of masks.
Changes to make to your skincare routine
Keeping your morning routine as simple as possible is a good way to ensure your skin doesn’t flare up. This means avoiding thick, heavy and oily creams and serums in the morning and applying them at night instead. Simplify your routine by using a gentle cleanser, moisturizer and applying lip balm to keep your lips moisturised too.
As for makeup, we really want to avoid clogging our pores so if you wear makeup choose non-comedogenic cosmetics and go for mineral-based light fluid or powder foundations. If you will essentially be wearing your mask throughout the office hours, you should maybe even consider skipping makeup entirely on the facial area covered by the mask. If possible, you can blot away the sweat and oil underneath the mask at regular intervals throughout the day.
Make sure you wash your face thoroughly with a gentle cleanser after returning home to get rid of accumulated sweat, dirt and oils from the day.
What about N95 masks?
The current recommendation is that the general public should not be wearing N95 masks for daily protection against the virus. N95 masks need to be professionally fitted to ensure that there is no air leak. Wearing a wrongly-fitted one will not be beneficial. These special masks should only be worn by healthcare workers.
What about wearing a mask during hot summer months?
Here are some tips to help you brave Hong Kong’s hot and humid summer in your mask:
- Opt for up-to-standard disposable masks which feel breathable and comfortable on your skin.
- While you want to have a snug fit, make sure it isn’t too tight
- If you can, bring a spare mask and switch it out if the other one gets too sweaty
We hope this guide will make wearing a mask even just that bit easier!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Nicola Chan 陳珮瑤醫生. Dr. Nicola Chan is a Specialist in Dermatology in private practice, based in Hong Kong. She graduated from the University of Cambridge, UK, and received post-graduate medical training in Cambridge, London and Hong Kong. This was followed by further laser and aesthetic dermatology training in Boston and Baltimore, USA. Dr. Chan is a member of the Hong Kong Society of Dermatology and Venereology, American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery, Asian Dermatological Association, and Hong Kong College of Dermatologists.