Face Masks Can Irritate Your Skin — How to Stop It

Dr. Janet Zand

August 7, 2020

 

 
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Face masks have become a part of our daily lives.  But wearing them is taking a toll on our skin.

It’s leading to more skin irritation, contact dermatitis, acne, rosacea, miliaria, and more.

In more serious cases, such as healthcare workers wearing N95 masks all day, it can even damage the skin and cause bruising.

So, how can you wear a mask and protect your skin?

Well, there are 5 simple ways to do it...

#1 Choose the right fabric

Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and rayon. Those fabrics tend to trap sweat underneath the mask, which can lead to clogged pores and irritation.

The best bet is a 100% cotton face mask. And, as it turns out, cotton is also one of the most effective masks you can use!

A recent study found that the most effective cloth masks were made from cotton, had two layers of tightly woven fabric, and provided a good seal along the edges.

So cotton is ideal both for your skin and to stop the spread of the virus.

#2 Switch your detergent

Popular laundry detergents often contain fragrances, preservatives, dyes, and other chemicals. And those chemicals can cause skin rashes, irritation, and contact dermatitis — especially when those chemicals are all over your face mask!

So instead, use a non-irritating, hypoallergenic detergent to wash your mask. Some examples include Charlie's Soap, Country Save, Honest Laundry Detergent, Method Free and Clear, and Seventh Generation Free and Clear.

#3 Remove buildup

Wearing a face mask can lead to a buildup of oil, dead skin cells, and other debris. And that buildup can block pores and sweat ducts, leading to problems like miliaria. Miliaria is a rash that occurs when the sweat ducts in your skin become clogged, and the sweat can't get to the surface.

So to prevent clogged pores, use regular, gentle exfoliation. You can either use a mechanical exfoliator like a scrub or a lotion with alpha-hydroxy acid.

#4 Protect the barrier

Wearing a face mask can really dry out your skin. So before you put on a mask, use a thick moisturizing cream. Your cream should be non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t block pores) and fragrance-free.

And if you are wearing a mask all day, it’s a good idea to reapply a moisturizer every few hours. Just wash your hands afterward.

#5 Use zinc oxide

If your mask rubs your skin in certain spots, use zinc oxide (found in diaper creams and certain physical sunblocks) to reduce abrasion and inflammation.

Simply put some zinc on your nasal bridge, chin, behind your ears, and other areas where your face mask rubs. This will provide a protective barrier and keep your skin from chafing.

If your mask is leaving marks and patches — a common problem for healthcare workers wearing medical-grade face masks — use petroleum. Petroleum can treat the damaged skin and lock in even more moisture. 

Try those tips, and let me know how it goes. If you are still experiencing dermatitis, redness, itching or inflammation, contact your dermatologist. In many cases, your dermatologist can use telemedicine (a video visit) to address your concerns.

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