How To Reduce Skin Irritation From Wearing a Face Mask

Adopt these strategies to avoid and treat a range of skin conditions.

Due to COVID-19, many individuals choose to wear a mask to help prevent contracting or spreading the virus. Whether you're donning a mask for hours at a time or only occasionally, your skin may be paying a price. You may have chafing, redness, or inflammation, or you may even have bruises, scars, or allergic reactions to certain N95 masks. However uncomfortable you may be, you can take measures to keep your skin healthy.

We sought out Adeline Kikam, DO (@brownskinderm), a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Brown Skin Derm, LLC, for advice on protecting your skin before and after wearing a mask.

Wash Your Skin With a Gentle Cleanser

Cleanse in the morning as usual, and make sure to repeat as soon as you can after removing your mask. "When you take (it) off, you definitely want to wash your face to clear up some of the debris, sweat, and whatever you've accumulated during the day," said Dr. Kikam, who advised using a gentle soap-free cleanser or cleansing bar to wash your face without overdrying it. No matter the cleanser you choose, be sure to use lukewarm, not hot, water. "Hot water can be more abrasive to the skin and further compromise the skin barrier."

Apply a Moisturizer With Barrier-Boosting Ingredients

"Constant rubbing and friction from everyday mask use can compromise our skin's barrier, resulting in dryness, bruises, and scrapes from various mask textiles," said Dr. Kikam. Regardless of your skin type, Dr. Kikam recommended following up after cleansing, day or night, with a moisturizer containing these holy-grail ingredients for fighting off dryness and irritation: ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. "Ceramides, a natural component of our skin, will replenish your skin barrier; hyaluronic acid pulls moisture from the environment into the skin to increase the hydration; niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, soothes the skin and reduces redness."

Treat Irritation With Over-the-Counter Creams

A low potency of 1% hydrocortisone will help minimize itching, redness, and irritation due to contact dermatitis, a rash caused by direct contact with or an allergic reaction to a variety of substances, said Dr. Kikam. Apply a thin layer of cream to the affected area two times a day until resolution or for a maximum of two weeks. See your healthcare provider if there is no resolution or the issue worsens at any time.

Cover the Irritated Skin With a Protective Ointment Before Bedtime

If you wear a mask several hours a day, you may develop irritated skin patches on your face. Dr. Kikam recommended this pre-bed regimen: Moisturize first, then apply a barrier-reinforcing cream with silicone to keep in moisture.

However, per an article published in the journal SKIN in 2021, if you are prone to acne or have sensitive skin, be cautious with this step as silicone products can clog pores and cause breakouts.

If you're unsure when to wear a mask, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

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