How to Protect Your Skin When Wearing a Face Mask

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In the UAE, wearing a mask while out and about has been mandatory for several months. But as physical offices work their way towards 100% occupancy this week, wearing a mask for prolonged hours will be something new you are experiencing. As a result, you may notice your skin has started to suffer or feel more sensitive than normal, which is why Savoir Flair reached out to La Roche-Posay consultant dermatologist Dr. Justine Hextall for advice on how to counter the effects of mask-wearing on our skin.

For Healthcare Professionals

For those who need to wear medical-grade face coverings, your skin might really be feeling it. “These are very much sealed to our skin,” says Hextall. “Having been fitted with them myself, I know that once you’re wearing them, the skin can get irritated quite quickly and that there are pressure issues — particularly in bony areas, like over the nose and ears.”

Hextall describes how the skin can break down in these areas due to rubbing against the mask. Her advice to healthcare workers is to “make sure you’re washing with a very gentle cleanser and hydrating with a rich moisturizer. I would advise them to put moisturizer on a couple of hours before they go to their shift”. This gives the product plenty of time to sink into the skin, meaning you avoid putting a mask on over damp skin.

For Those Wearing Regular Face Masks

Face masks that aren’t medical-grade tend not to be as tightly fitted to your face. However, they can still have an impact on your skin.

To protect yourself and others against COVID-19, you need to wash your mask regularly, but, Hextall adds, “we’re not used to having perfumes or the products of detergents so close to the delicate skin of our face. What’s left on those masks might be irritating the skin, so heavily perfumed washing powders or conditioners put straight onto the skin could cause irritation.”

“If there is product left and the detergent’s not been rinsed out,” she explains, that can “very much affect the skin barrier.”

Masks can promote increased moisture in the skin, with Hextall saying this could “significantly change the skin barrier and its microbiome”. For example, “yeast might become more prevalent in certain areas, and that can cause certain eczemas.” Acne is another issue: spots can develop underneath masks “because sweat and oil can block pores.”

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What You Can Do

“It’s so important that we wash our faces,” says Hextall. The first questions she asks her patients are what they are washing with and how their skin feels afterward. “People often say if it feels tight that means it’s really clean, but the truth is, it probably means you’ve changed the naturally acidic pH of the skin, and you’ve probably disrupted the skin barrier and you’re going to start losing moisture. So using a really gentle cleanser is really important.”

Next up, consider your moisturizer. Hextall recommends looking out for ingredients that will boost hydration, like humectants, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid, which she says “all form part of the mortar in our brick skin barrier”.

If you include active ingredients in your evening skincare routine – like acids and retinol – it might be worth easing back a bit. “The skin is already sensitized and slightly dryer, so retinoids and other actives may be causing more of a problem,” says Hextall, advising you to use them less frequently and put more of an emphasis on hydrating products. It’s also worth noting that wearing makeup can wreak havoc on skin that is covered all day, and so you should try your best not to apply makeup if you anticipate wearing the mask for longer periods.

She says: “It’s really about protecting the skin, keeping it nicely hydrated, and not overly stripping it.”

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