Wearing a Mask is an important part of the fight against COVID-19

Research shows that face masks, even of the reusable cotton type, can help to reduce the risk of infection1. Wearing a mask reduces transmission of the virus by limiting the distance that airborne droplets travel by about 50% compared to the distance these droplets would travel if the person wasn’t wearing a mask2. Wearing a face mask also provides greater protection to the wearer by blocking the droplets expelled by another person2.

While the need to wear face masks is critically important in helping to curb the spread of the virus, our skin can be affected by extended periods of mask wearing.

How facial skin can be affected by face masks

The skin is literally the body’s first line of defence to the outside world, this means that it is particularly sensitive to changes in factors such as temperature, humidity and friction. If any of these are too high or too low, your skin can react in a multitude of ways, from dryness to redness to irritation3.

Wearing a mask for extended periods of time introduces a relatively enclosed environment that can increase temperature on that part of the face. This can also increase sebum (oil) secretion, potentially giving rise to skin breakouts and acne. This mask-induced acne has even given rise to a new term: ‘maskne’4.

Exhaled breath can also lead to some condensation within the mask itself, increasing the moisture content on the skin. This can irritate the skin and is fertile ground for acne-causing bacteria. Finally, the mechanical friction caused by wearing a mask, especially behind the ears and around the cheeks, nose and chin, can lead to irritation and redness.

The effects of extended use of a face mask on the skin can be uncomfortable and potentially lead to incorrect usage.

How to manage the effects of mask-wearing on your skin

Hydration is key to the proper functioning of the skin. The use of well-formulated, effective moisturisers that contain ingredients such as occludents, emollients and humectants that mimic how the skin naturally hydrates itself, can not only offset the dryness caused by face masks, but also help to reduce irritation and discomfort. Moisturisers containing occlusive ingredients such as petrolatum or silicones such as dimethicone can help to form a water-resistant barrier on the skin, reducing the negative impact of too much moisture building up under your mask.