These days, as you’re preparing to leave the house, your list of things to take with you—car keys, wallet, house keys—also includes hand sanitizer and a mask, or some kind of face covering. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing a cloth face covering in any situation where social distancing isn’t possible to help reduce the spread of the virus.
It’s a simple way to protect yourself and those around you, but wearing any kind of face covering can cause skin irritation and breakouts, especially if you’re not accustomed to such frequent use—which most of us aren’t. But Dr. Ruotsi of Saratoga Hospital Medical Group—Wound Healing has some tips and tricks to help mitigate skin irritation due to wearing masks.
- Stay hydrated. The Mayo Clinic recommends approximately 11.5 cups of water per day for women, and 15.5 cups of water per day for men. Proper hydration lubricates your skin, and helps your body expel waste and maintain a normal temperature—all of which become especially important when you are constantly covering your face.
- Be deliberate in your choice of material. Adequate hydration won’t help if your skin reacts negatively to the fabric you’re using for your mask. Baylor College of Medicine advises wearing a mask with an inner layer of cotton, which is absorbent and less likely to cause breakouts. If you’re super prone to acne, stay away from polyester and nylon, synthetic materials that trap moisture and make you sweat. The CDC provides detailed instructions for homemade masks, so take advantage of them, especially if you have some old t-shirts or cotton sheets in the back of the closet: The odds are good that your skin will not react negatively to fabrics you’ve previously used—but make sure you wash everything first.
- Wash your mask often. Because they can trap moisture against your skin, masks should be laundered frequently to minimize the growth of bacteria, yeast, or fungus. If you’re wearing your mask daily, you should be washing it daily—simple as that. Grab a hypoallergenic detergent if you have sensitive skin, or a regular detergent without bleach to avoid breakdown of any materials. Use hot water, and tumble-dry on high heat. For additional peace of mind, you can iron all freshly washed cloth masks to kill any remaining germs or bacteria.
- Maintain or establish a skincare routine. If your physician or dermatologist prescribed specific products for acne or other skin conditions, don’t stop using them. Just remember that, in this case, less is more. Avoid makeup of any kind under your mask, and Dr. Friedman from George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences recommends applying moisturizer multiple times throughout the day. At the end of a shift, or when you return home, use a gentle facial cleanser to remove dirt and oil without compromising the skin’s natural barrier. Dr. Ruotsi emphasizes that, whenever possible, you should use gentle, pH balanced soaps, skin cleansers, and moisturizers to help maintain the skin’s protective and barrier functions. Routine use of antibacterial soaps, especially on the face, is not recommended. When you’re not in public or interacting with other people, leave your mask off to allow your skin to breathe.
If you are struggling with breakouts or irritation that do not get better after a few days, reach out to your primary care provider for a referral to a dermatologist, or to our Wound Healing team. Please don’t wait to seek help—we’re always here if you need us.