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Is Your Face Mask Irritating Your Skin? Here Are Some Treatment Suggestions

By Marcia Conard

It looks like face masks are here to stay for some time to come.  We have worn them in colder temperatures and now in hotter temperatures as well.  We have worn face masks in all shapes, sizes, and materials.  Some people have to need to wear them only occasionally as they run necessary errands, while other people are wearing them all day at work.  Whatever the case may be, many people are experiencing skin irritation of some kind or other.

It is recommended for most of us to wear a cloth face mask, but let’s be picky about the type of cloth we choose!  You want a tightly woven fabric and you want it to be soft, natural, and breathable, like 100% cotton.  You want to stay away from synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester, or rayon as these fabrics are more likely to cause you to sweat and exacerbate skin irritation.  Other things that can cause irritation could be an adhesive strip in the nose area to hold the mask in place, a dye or treatment in the cloth itself, or the detergent the mask is washed in.  A detergent for sensitive skin like ALL Free Clear without dyes or scents would be a good choice.  You may even want to run your masks through an extra rinse cycle to ensure there is no detergent buildup in the fabric. 

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Some irritation may be caused in places like the bridge of the nose, under or across the chin, and behind the ears due to simple friction of the mask against the skin.  Zinc oxide is an anti-inflammatory you might try in a thin layer in these areas where your mask might rub.  Another alternative would be using a thicker emollient such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment.  Either of these products will act as a skin barrier from the mask.

The experts agree that when you wash your face, simply pat it dry and while the skin is still moist, apply an oil-free moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated and create a barrier between the skin and the mask.  If possible, try to do this a few times a day, it comes highly recommended.  Make it a practice to always wash your face before and after wearing your mask using mild cleansers rather than harsh soaps or exfoliators.  Always remember to apply your oil-free moisturizer once you pat your face somewhat dry.  You may want to purchase a lighter moisturizer containing anti-acne ingredients such as retinol and purified nano-sulfur.

If you are wearing your face mask for long periods of time and especially if you are experiencing any type of skin irritation, for those of you wearing makeup under your mask, now is the time to forego that part of your routine.  Due to the increased humidity on your skin under the mask, when wearing makeup you may clog pores which will lead to breakouts.  By not wearing makeup you are allowing your skin to breathe better.

Not only is it important to cleanse your face, but it is also just as important to wash your face mask.  The experts agree that washing your face masks in a washing machine is sufficient.  It is important to remember that while wearing your face mask, on the inside it is accumulating a buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and other debris causing a hot, moist environment inside your mask which may be causing some irritation to your skin.  Most importantly is the particulate matter your mask is collecting on its outside surface which is what is protecting you.  Based on this information, you can see how important it is to launder your face masks regularly.

If while trying these self-treatments your skin irritation does not clear up, you may need to see a dermatologist for prescription medication.  If ignored, these skin conditions could lead to more severe forms of skin problems. 

So, what type of skin irritation might you be experiencing? 

  • Maskne – Yes, it’s a thing!  It is acne caused due to the mask trapping dirt and oil in the pores along with friction from the mask causing stress on the skin.  Speaking of stress, emotional or mental stress or anxiety is a powerful trigger.  It can create a hormonal reaction or overactive immune reaction resulting in facial acne, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, perioral dermatitis, and rosacea.  
  • Miliaria – This is also known as heat rash.  Miliaria comes from the immune system reacting to dead skin cells, bacteria, and sweat salts in the pores and in the case of mask-wearing, a moister environment.
  • Rosacea – This may make you look like you are blushing and you may have little bumps that appear a little like acne.  It is caused by an overactive immune response with a sensitivity to the nerves around the blood vessels causing them to widen and cause facial redness.  Rosacea will not go away on its own.  
  • Eczema – This may also be referred to as dermatitis.  It is a condition that causes the skin to turn red, scaly, and itchy.  On the face, it can appear as red patches, small bumps, and flaking skin.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis – This condition appears as scaly patches and red skin. It may also be called seborrheic eczema.
  • Perioral dermatitis – This is a type of skin rash exhibiting multiple small bumps and blisters.  It can have background redness and scaling and appears around the mouth and nostrils.  It can resemble rosacea and may appear a little like acne.

As we navigate our new “normal” due to the novel coronavirus, we may experience some of these conditions.  After reading this article, I’m sure you can recognize the importance of cleansing your face, applying oil-free moisturizer, using other topical products as described, regularly laundering your face masks, and seeing your dermatologist if you have an ongoing skin condition. 

These can be stressful times.  I encourage you to take some time to get outdoors in settings that don’t require a face mask, get some fresh air, do things that bring you joy and relaxation, and consider what you are putting in your diet.  Some of these flare-ups could be exacerbated by the foods we are eating. 

Above all else, know that this too shall pass as has been proven by history and past pandemics.  We can go the distance!  Be well and take care!

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