How to stop your skin breaking out when wearing a face mask.

In Japan (pre-covid) wearing a face mask is a common sight. Every time a family member or friend from Australia visited us in Tokyo, they were always fascinated (and perhaps a little worried) when they saw busy Tokyo-ites going about their day wearing a face mask. Wearing a face mask is a completely normal part of life in Japan, and are worn for many reasons, most commonly as a way to protect the wearer from seasonal allergies and cold/ flu, but also perhaps more importantly, as a sign of respect for others around them. Respect is such a big part of the Japanese culture and by wearing a mask when you are unwell it protects those around you.

With the world in the midst of a global pandemic, we are all adjusting the daily habit of wearing a face mask, and to those who have not grown up wearing one it can be quite an adjustment. One of the most common complaints has been the significant increase in skin complaints resulting from wearing a face mask. Anyone heard the freshly coined term maskne? It really is a thing. You are not imagining it.

So what is causing these annoying breakouts, skin sensitivity and unflattering skin redness? Well unfortunately it is likely to be your mask. So as it seems we are all going to have to live with these face masks for the foreseeable future, I decided to put together a post on how to keep your skin looking and feeling good while wearing a face mask.

Why is your skin flaring up?

There are two main reasons why mask related skin breakouts and irritation occur: 

When we breathe into the mask it creates a humid environment, making the perfect conditions for bacteria and organisms to quickly multiply. Add humid weather, exercise, heating and even stress can further increase in moisture held within the mask environment.

Chaffing or friction caused by the mask fabric rubbing against the tiny hair follicles in the skin creates irritation and damage to the skin barrier. 

So how can you prevent and care for your skin while wearing your face mask?

Choose the right kind of mask

One good thing that has come out of the current COVID situation is the creation of more reusable fabric masks, that are far more eco-friendly than the one-use disposable kind. When buying a mask choose the fabric carefully- look for 100% cotton and breathable light fabrics (there are even silk masks), that won’t cause as much friction on the skin and regulate temperature. 

Keep your mask clean

This is really important! When you get your new mask, wash it before you use it. Then keep it clean. Wash your mask daily, and if you exercise or in a really humid environment considering swapping your mask for a fresh one when needed throughout the day. You are probably going to need a few masks to wear in rotation.

Use gentle and protective skin care products. 

Keeping your skin clean is of course important, however it is important to simplify your routine and use gentle, soothing products. Don’t automatically reach for the usual skincare ingredients like powerful actives and this is definitely not time to be using multiple serums and trying new ingredients, as the skin is fragile and the skin barrier is likely impaired. Harsh ingredients are likely to further damage the skin barrier and make wearing a mask more difficult. 

  • Use a gentle cleanser to cleanse the skin both morning and night.
  • Gently exfoliate using a gentle lactic or glycolic acid. No harsh scrubs, exfoliating brushes etc.
  • Choose a protective moisturiser that contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides that will hydrate, moisturise and help strengthen the skin barrier. 

Skip your usual foundation and lipstick. 

Wearing foundation and lipstick under your mask are asking for trouble, and are a little unnecessary when covered by the mask. The humid environment and friction from the mask will increase the likelihood of blocked pores and irritation. Not to mention rubbing off on the inside of your mask- no, thank you.

Focus your efforts on filling in your eyebrows and applying mascara. With a mask on your eyes will be in full focus. If you have makeup on at home, consider using a micellar water to quickly and gently remove makeup before going out wearing your mask. Just remember your SPF, which brings me to my last point.

Remember your SPF. 

Yes, even though you are wearing a mask you still need to wear a high SPF when heading outside. Also, remember to reapply frequently.

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