Wearing a Mask

Wearing a mask is important Photo

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 moisturisers can help alleviate dry skin and itch.

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.

1. Chu DK, Akl AA, Duda S, Solo K, Yaacoub S, Schunemann HJ. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet 2020;395(10242):1973-1987

2. Dbouk T, Drikakis D. On respiratory droplets and face masks. Phys Fluids 2020;32(6):063303

3. Engebretsen KA, Johansen JD, Kezic S, Linneberg A, Thyssen JP. The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis. JEADV;30(2):223-249

4. Tan Y. BBC. ‘Maskne’ and bold makeup: how masks are changing how we look. [internet] 2020. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-53468051

5. Szepietowski JC, Matusiak L, Szepietowska M, Krajewski PK, Bialynicki-Birula R. Face mask-induced itch: a self-questionnaire study or 2,315 responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acta Derm Venereol