But despite offering a vital first defence against airborne bacteria, they come with their own set of problems.
Feedback from frontline workers and folk in other countries who’ve been wearing face masks throughout lockdown, is that repeated use can cause unwanted skin flare-ups. We’ve even seen the coining of a new term: maskne, where wearing face masks have led to an increase in acne breakouts and other issues.
“It’s no secret that lockdown has reaped havoc with our skin,” says Skin Specialist and Founder of the London Premier Laser Skin Clinic, Lucy Xu. “The disruption to our daily routines, the stress of the current situation and lack of vitamin D has mean that our skin has taken a hit and may not be in top condition at the moment.” Maskne, is just adding to the list. “From the friction of the the mask causing irritation, to bacteria transferring from the mask onto your skin, there are many ways in which wearing a mask could mean your skin will start to suffer. They can cause skin to become irritated and congested and could potentially promote acne around the cheeks and chin area.”
If you haven’t already, you’re about to get up close and personal with a new and essential accessory: your face mask. Now that the government has made them compulsory on public transport (and word on the street is they’re going to be recommended as a precaution more widely), the likelihood is, you’ll be wearing yours a lot more.
Don’t like the sound of that? Lucy’s recommended we take these steps to curb the problem.
1. Buy the right type of mask
“When choosing a mask, I would spend a little bit more to ensure that it is a good fit. Make sure it’s large enough to cover the face and offers the right type of fabric which is breathable, soft on the skin and non-irritating,” Lucy says. “I would also advise buying a couple which will allow you to rotate the mask so that you are wearing a clean mask each day whilst the other is in the wash.
This will not only prevent you from catching Covid-19 but of course will keep your skin clean and free of any unwanted bacteria. Opt for natural fabrics such as cotton or washable silk as these types of fabric will reduce the friction of the mask on your face which should help to prevent any irritation from rubbing.”
2. Keep your mask clean
“Keeping your mask clean is imperative for ensuring that you are keeping your skin clean and free from any harmful bacteria that could cause you to breakout,” says Lucy. “Furthermore, the air from breathing in a confined space will build up underneath the mask and will begin to suffocate the skin.
This mixed with sweating and long periods of wearing the mask will act as a breeding ground for bacteria leading to potential breakouts and congestion, so its super important to ensure that you remove your mask when you aren’t wearing it to allow the skin to breathe and to get some air into the mask,” she says.
“I would also advise machine washing your mask after every use on a hot setting with good detergent, and as mentioned previously I would advise buying a few masks so you can rotate them.” This in itself could present a problem. We’re not used to having washing detergents to close to our face. Try switching to a gentle fragrance and enzyme free detergent such as Boots Sensitive Skin Laundry Liquid. If your skin really can’t tolerate detergents, wash your face masks without any, but make sure you put them on a boil wash.
3. Turn skincare regime up a notch
“If your skin is prone to inflammation and breakouts, you may want to invest a little more time and money into your skincare whilst we have to wear masks. Looking after it morning and night will ensure that it is regenerating for each day,” says Lucy. “I would advise – if you don’t already – double cleansing each evening before bed.
You can use a cleansing balm, milk or oil but just ensure you double cleanse using warm water and a muslin cloth to remove any unwanted bacteria from all areas of the face and neck. I would also start to use face masks more regularly, perhaps a few times a week. These will work to draw out any impurities and bacteria which has surfaced onto your skin from wearing the mask and will work deep into the epidermis. A clay mask is best for acne prone skin,” she adds.
4. Only wear the mask when you need to
“Only wear the mask when you need – so getting on and off public transport and while you’re in highly congested areas. Other than that, ensure you are removing your mask as much as possible to allow your skin to breathe and to make sure your mask doesn’t become too sweaty,” says Lucy.
“Once you take the mask off put it in a safe place away from anywhere it could gather bacteria. Perhaps pop it in a material pouch or drawstring bag for safety.”
5. Add in anti-oxidants and balms into your daily skincare
“If you are heading onto public transport and into the city, you should think about adding in some anti-oxidant skincare products into your regime to keep your skin healthy and to protect it against any harmful pollutants as well as any bacteria from under the mask. Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant ingredient which will work to keep your skin healthy and illuminated and will neutralise any free radicals, it will also work to repair any damaged cells from wearing the mask,” says Lucy.
“Once lockdown is eased and clinics start to open again, I would advise going for a professional Vitamin C skin peel to get rid of any damaged and dead skin cells and to brighten your appearance. The Vitamin C peel at London Premier Laser is a popular anti-oxidant treatment for clients. If you find your skin has become irritated due to wearing a mask, you may also want to apply a rich skin balm onto the damaged areas which will help to repair and soothe the sore areas overnight,” she adds.
And if, despite these preventative measures, you do get a spot, check our our edit of the best treatments to gently clear them away.