Remember the “before times”? You know, way back in March when everything was business as usual.
We never dreamed we’d have to deal with a sweeping global pandemic and all the terrifying realities it unceremoniously dumped on our laps. On top of all of the grief, fear, isolation fatigue, and a frantic search for normalcy, we also have to deal with silly but very real problems and questions. One such question I’ve personally gotten from my friends is: “OK, but how do I take care of my skin while wearing a mask?”
Yes, I have gotten no less than six messages about this on FB from close friends and at least a dozen on IG from followers.
Listen, I know that skin care may seem really unimportant right now given the state of the world, but we have to remember that the skin is an organ too, and its health truly is important. Many healthcare and other frontline workers are dealing with real skin problems such as contact dermatitis, abrasions, acne, and even fungal infections. And anyone who’s masked for any extended period of time while gathering supplies knows that taking your mask off when you get home is the new taking-your-bra-off after a long day. You’re stuffy, uncomfortable, and just want to let everything air out.
Taking your mask off when you get home is the new taking-your-bra-off after a long day. You’re stuffy, uncomfortable, and just want to let everything air out.
If you’re wondering what you can do to try to take care of your skin while we go about our new face mask normal, I have a few tips that you might find helpful.
Now Is Not the Time For Intensive Treatments (Kind Of)
OK, hear me out. I know tretinoin is life, and you have your perfected cocktail of acids on hand at all times to keep your skin in check. I’m not saying you have to ditch it all, I’m just saying be smart about it.
If you’re wearing medical grade face masks, they tend to pinch and be very close to the skin thanks to their secure seal and fit. Extended wear can lead to irritation at best, and open abrasions at worst. We want to avoid that last part so take it easy on the areas of skin where your mask will be sitting and avoid strong acids just in that area, particularly the bridge of the nose.
If, say, you use salicylic acid in that area a lot to combat blackheads, still put it on the tip, but take care of the bridge. If you’re someone who puts acids all over the face for exfoliation, now’s the time to find a soft gommage type scrub to pick up the slack as you temporarily cut out the “all over” part.
Mask acne is one of the most annoying things about masking: little pustules popping up everywhere that your mask covers. With my previous advice you may think there’s nothing you can do, but you’re not completely out of luck.
As long as the acne isn’t in one of the areas where rubbing is occurring, feel free to spot treat your breakouts with a good BHA. I have a BHA 9% liquid I like to use for emergency breakouts like these, but I’m very careful about where I put it instead of doing an all-over slapdash application to the general area (which I’ve been guilty of doing in the past).
Pimple patches are another wonder product for these annoying zits and very mild at that. Skipping full-face foundation can also help with things—I mean who’s seeing under your mask anyway. Let your skin go free for now. I hate the term “let your skin breathe” because skin doesn’t breathe, but it’s good to forgo anything that isn’t absolutely necessary right now.
Another condition that might at first look like acne but then evolve into an itchy mess is contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis can pop up anywhere for any reason. It’s just one of those things we have to deal with as humans. Topical steroids are usually what derms use to treat it, but extended use can cause thinning of the skin, which we absolutely do not want, especially right now.
If your mask is a reusable washable one, make the switch to a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free detergent in case your trigger is actually the soap and not the mask’s construction. If it is somehow the material of your mask that’s causing the problem, just keep searching for the type of mask that works for you without added irritation.
Overall Skin Health: Go Gentle & Hydrate
Overall skin health is hugely important right now. Remember, skin is a physical barrier. It’s here to protect us—the least we should do is protect it.
Right now your skin’s moisture barrier is its most precious defense. Do everything that you can to keep it happy and intact. Keep your skin clean, be sure to come home and wash not only your hands but your face as well after being in a close-contact situation like a crowded grocery store.
But with more frequent washings, you’re going to want to be sure you’re using a gentle 5.5 ph cleanser so you’re not stripping your skin with every wash. Replenish the lipids immediately after washing. Don’t let the skin dry out before you start the rest of your routine—you want to seal in all the moisture you can.
Now’s the perfect time to layer on the hydration with a couple of applications of a moisturizing toner followed up by a nourishing skin oil and barrier cream to keep all the goodness inside.
And hey, don’t feel guilty about taking this time to make sure your skin is in order—it’s an important part of your health and wellbeing. In a world full of chaos we can’t control, this may well be the one thing we can.