Face coverings are essential for protecting us from spreading Covid-19, and avoiding it having an effect on your skin is simple once you know what to do.
It’s now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport, and it’s also strongly encouraged in public if social distancing may be difficult. But as frontlines workers have been saying since the very beginning, mask-wearing can spell breakouts, irritation, skin dehydration, and even flare-ups of pre-existing conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Like with anything skin-related, some small changes can help to deal with these issues and make your mask-wearing a joy.
Firstly, think about the type of covering you’re using and what it is made from. If you have very sensitive skin, most experts will suggest avoiding the synthetic materials (polyester, for example) and opting for something breathable and natural, like a woven 100% cotton mask. I got my own 100% cotton mask from healthmasks.ie. If you’re prone to breakouts, especially when sweating (think about all that warm breath inside the mask), a breathable material like cotton will make a world of difference for you too.
If you’re using a reusable mask, you need to clean it frequently, like anything else that you’d be holding against your face all day. In terms of your skin, if you’re putting the same mask on daily without cleaning it, you’re introducing oils, bacteria, and perhaps old makeup to your face and letting it sit on top of it. I believe this is a key culprit of “maskne” — as mask acne has been dubbed — as well as the irritation and itchiness that is mentioned by so many. The HSE
recommends washing your face coverings daily in a hot wash of over 60Cwith washing detergent, so it may be worthwhile to invest in a second or third face covering and having a sealed “used mask” bag in your home for between wash days.
One of the causes of mask-related irritation is friction. It’s incredibly difficult not to move your face, and when you move, the mask may rub against your skin repeatedly, leading to itchiness, redness and tenderness. What you need to counteract this is a product that works as a barrier.
Although silicones get a bad rap, they are one of the most effective barrier ingredients in skincare. If your skin is particularly sensitive to rubbing, Dermalogica Barrier Repair (€48.50, selected salons and pharmacies) contains silicones to create that protective barrier on the skin along with anti-irritation ingredients such as oat extract, and nourishing oils like evening primrose oil and borage seed oil.
If you’re seeing spots, lumps, bumps and blackheads galore, lean on salicylic acid. I talk about salicylic acid all the time in this column, and for good reason — as an oil-soluble exfoliating acid, it gently removes dead cells from the surface of the skin whilst being able to penetrate into the pore to dissolve debris, helping to reduce oil and anti-bacterialise the skin. Introduce a cleanser like Skingredients Sally Cleanse (€25, skingredients.com, selected salons and pharmacies) every third night to tackle the source of spots and reduce the appearance of existing blemishes.
Another thing to note – a thorough cleanse is now more important than ever. Precleanse with something like the Cleanse Off Mitt or a precleanse balm. If you’re seeing irritation, opt for something calming and nourishing that won’t annoy your skin further, such as the Biofresh Probiotic Ultra Delicate Cleansing Milk (€18, theskinnerd.com, selected salons and pharmacies).
The Skin Nerd's Nerdie Pick: Declare Ocean’s Best Hydro Mask (€29.95)
If your skin is feeling dehydrated, your quick-fix saviour may be a hydration mask. Declare Ocean’s Best Hydro Mask is filled with mineral-rich spring sea water, hyaluronic acid and algae extract for an instant boost of moisture, plumping the skin immediately for a reduced appearance of fine lines.
With hydrating masks, if I need a bit of TLC and a cooling sensation, I’ll pop it in the fridge for a few minutes so that when I apply it, it’s refreshing and calming.
You can remove it, like a traditional mask, or leave it on the skin on top of serums or moisturisers overnight if you need a more intensive treatment.
Declare Ocean’s Best Hydro Mask (€29.95, theskinnerd.com, selected pharmacies)