Unless your job requires you to wear PPE, wearing a face mask when you go out and about isn’t compulsory right now. However, government advice does recommend that you wear a covering when you’re in enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, such as in supermarkets, on public transport or in other crowded spaces.
While evidence suggests that while face masks may not offer any additional protection to you personally, they can provide protection for those who come into close contact with you if you have contracted coronavirus but not yet developed symptoms, so it’s important follow the guidance and apply this recommendation to your daily routine. But although you know it’s the responsible thing to do, but that doesn’t prevent wearing a face mask from also being – well, pretty uncomfortable.
Not only does cloth covering your nose and mouth get hot and itchy on these increasingly sunny days, but masks can also cause a number of different skin irritations, including dryness, sore patches and breakouts. So we asked the experts what type of mask can minimise these outcomes, and their recommendations for soothing any mask-induced flare-ups and keeping your skin as calm as possible in our new normal.
What type of mask is best for my skin?
‘In terms of your skin’s health, a reusable mask that can be washed is a good option – look for natural fabrics such as cotton which allow air to ventilate the skin, keeping it cooler and helping to prevent a build-up of moisture, which is a better environment for healthy skin,’ says Tracey Wilmot, education director for skincare brand Murad.
‘A mask that fits well is important to avoid fiddling with the mask and potential irritation.’
Should I need to apply a product to protect my skin before putting on my mask?
‘If you are already following a good skincare regime and maintaining your skin health, then you don’t necessarily need to change anything just because you are now wearing face masks,’ says Dr Qian Xu, Medical Director of Skin Aesthetics.
‘You can’t go wrong with a facial cleanser, light moisturiser and a sunscreen. The point of a good skincare routine is that it helps to improve the health of the skin and protect it, so that it can tolerate the environmental stresses better.’
What should I do if my face mask is making my skin dry?
‘Apply a hyaluronic acid serum morning and night underneath your moisturiser to rehydrate and refresh, and replace your toner with a calming hydration spray.’ These sprays can be used anytime of day when skin feels uncomfortable or dry, so you could consider carrying one with you if you’re out and about to refresh your skin whenever it’s feeling particularly tight.
‘For skin that is feeling dry and irritated use a gentle soap free cleanser to avoid stripping natural oils from the skin,’ Abigail adds. ‘A moisturising face mask is a great way to repair skin and relieve dryness. Try using yours as an overnight treatment to intensify the results.’
How can I prevent my face mask from causing breakouts?
‘If your skin is usually blemish-prone, you may find that wearing a mask can cause your skin to breakout,’ says Tracey. ‘The air from breathing in a confined space builds up under the mask over time and warms the skin, if combined with perspiration from prolonged periods of wearing a mask, this could create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria leading to breakouts.’
First thing’s first: mask hygiene. ‘Washable masks should be cleaned and dried daily,’ she continues. ‘Cleaning skin first thing in the morning and at night is essential to remove unwanted bacteria, dirt and dust particles which can cause irritation and sensitivity.
‘Depending on the reasons for wearing the mask, work related or essential trips to the shop, a gentle cleanse when removing the mask is an additional way to protect the skin, but always follow with hydration to keep the moisture barrier healthy. If you are cleansing more frequently, choose a gentle, balancing formula.’
If mask-related breakouts are really getting you down, Abigail suggests incorporating a cleanser and toner with salicylic acid in your routine. ‘This will help to decongest and deep clean the pores to avoid blockages which can result in unwanted breakouts,’ she says.
Tracey also recommends that you avoid occlusive barrier creams, as they can be too thick and heavy for the skin underneath a mask, and avoid heavy makeup application where possible: ‘combined with the build up of warmer air and moisture on the skin, this could encourage breakouts.’
Dr Qian agrees, particularly in the case of ‘foundation and oily sunscreens, as those can cause the pores to become clogged and make your skin more prone to breakouts.’
‘You can adapt your regime to how your skin is being affected by wearing a mask,’ Tracey concludes. ‘For instance, if it’s more irritable than usual, avoid over-exfoliating and focus on soothing and calming the skin with ingredients such as arnica which is very healing.’