How to protect your skin when wearing a face mask
Whether it’s for your job or because of government guidelines, many of us have started wearing face masks. Wearing them out and about is mandatory in some places, like France, but the rules vary elsewhere – for example, people in Ireland are advised to wear them in enclosed public spaces.
If you have started wearing a mask more often to help stop the spread of Covid-19, you may have noticed your skin underneath starting to suffer or feel more sensitive than normal.
But there are things you can do to protect your skin, says La Roche-Posay consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall…
For healthcare professionals…
For those who need to wear medical grade face coverings, your skin might really be feeling it. “These are very much sealed to our skin,” says Hextall. “Having been fitted with them myself, I know that once you’re wearing them, the skin can get irritated quite quickly and there are pressure issues – particularly in bony areas, like over the nose and ears.”
Hextall describes how the skin can break down in these areas due to rubbing against the mask. Her advice to healthcare workers is to “make sure you’re washing with a very gentle cleanser and hydrate with moisturiser – I tell them to put moisturiser on a couple of hours before they go to their shift”. This gives the product plenty of time to sink into the skin, meaning you avoid putting a mask on over damp skin.
For those wearing regular face masks…
Face masks that aren’t medical grade tend not to be as tightly fitted to your face. However, they can still have an impact on your skin.
To protect yourself and others against Covid-19, you need to wash your mask regularly, and “we’re not used to having perfumes or the products of detergents so close to the delicate skin of our face,” explains Hextall. “What’s left on those masks might be irritating the skin, so heavily perfumed washing powders or conditioners put straight onto the skin could cause irritation.”
“If there is product left and the detergent’s not been rinsed out,” she explains, that can “very much affect the skin barrier.”
Masks can promote increased moisture in the skin, with Hextall saying this could “significantly change the skin barrier and its microbiome”. For example, “yeast might become more prevalent in certain areas, and that can cause certain eczemas.” Acne is another issue: spots can develop underneath masks “because sweat and oil can block pores.”
What you can do…
“It’s so important we wash our faces,” says Hextall. The first questions she asks her patients are what they are washing with and how their skin feels afterwards. “People often say if it feels tight that means it’s really clean, but the truth is, it probably means you’ve changed the naturally acidic pH of the skin, you’ve probably disrupted the skin barrier and you’re going to start losing moisture. So using a really gentle cleanser is really important.”
Next up, consider your moisturiser. Hextall recommends looking out for ingredients that will boost hydration, like humectants, glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which she says “all form part of the mortar in our brick skin barrier”.
If you include active ingredients in your evening skincare routine – like acids and retinols – it might be worth easing back a bit. “The skin’s already sensitised and slightly dryer, so retinoids and other actives may be causing more of a problem,” says Hextall, advising you use them less frequently and put more of an emphasis on hydrating products.
She says: “It’s really about protecting the skin, keeping it nicely hydrated and not overly stripping it.”