Face masks are essential to preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s making irritations on skin. Wearing a face mask for extended periods of time comes with uncomfortable skin issues.
Face masks need to fit snugly on the wearer’s face, and must close tightly around the nose to ensure that they offer maximum protection. While those characteristics make it effective at filtering out airborne particles, the tighter the mask, the more pressure is placed on the skin.
Because of the occlusive nature of the face mask, your breathing is trapped, creating a humid environment for your skin. “The wearers are sweating underneath the masks, and this causes friction, leading to pressure damage on the nose and cheeks,” says Professor Karen Ousey. “There can be tears to the skin as a result, and these can lead to potential infection.”
So what should you do if you’re experiencing irritation? If possible, Ousey suggests pressure from the face mask to be relieved every two hours, and if you feel your mask rubbing, take it off as soon as it is safely possible.
It’s important to keep both the mask and your face clean. “Prior to putting on your mask, use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t contain potentially irritating topicals like acids and retinoids, as these can further irritate the skin,” advises Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut. This will help remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin.
Next step: moisturize. Purvisha Patel, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare in Tennessee, recommends applying a thick ceramide-based balm to the areas where the face mask will touch at least 30 minutes before putting it on. This will create a protective barrier between the mask and your face.
“Ultimately, the most important thing is that you do not remove, touch, or adjust the masks when you’re at risk for everyone’s safety,” says Dr. Patel. “All skin issues are a solvable problem and can be addressed later.”