How to care for your face when wearing a mask during COVID-19

Times are surely interesting during the COVID-19 pandemic. First off, I’d like to thank ALL essential workers and first responders. My sincerest thank you to the janitor to the warehouse fulfillment people to grocery store workers to the trash person to the doctors and nurses. You all are my hero and make me SO PROUD to become a nurse.

COVID_Masks_2020The 2020 accessory of the year is the mask. Surgical masks, home made masks, scarves, N95s and everything in between are being worn by more people than ever and for longer periods of time. The constant wear and tear on the skin, pressure from the straps behind the ears and moisture trapped and recirculated from our hot coffee breath post all-I-could-find-in-this-house-is-tuna-noodle-casserole creates a plethora of potential issues. Kiss me, baby.

Some of you may be experiencing less acne due to not wearing makeup with no where to go and no one to see during quarantine, and more rest. However record unemployment, changes in living situations, homeschooling our children and fear of the unknown plastered all over the interwebs is  confirming we are STRESSED and many have experienced an explosion of skin scaries since COVID-19 and quarantine. My aesthetician and nursing sides converge here to use a little bit of proven technique mixed with passion to make sure your skin is functioning at its best.

Seeing some of your own skin scaries? See if any of these apply to you.

Your routine has changed. Or it hasn’t in three weeks

Like many of you, I’ve been quarantined in a 600 sq ft apartment with my fur kids and hubby. My skin started looking like crap and I realized that a) all my esty hookups are closed and those are SO important to skin health and b) my routine changed and I got lazy + wasn’t giving my skin what it needed like I was.

Cleansing is so important at this time. Whether you’re wearing a mask all day or not, your routine has changed.  You might think that since you didn’t sweat or wear makeup that day that cleansing isn’t as important. Not true.

Oxygen and UV light are natural anti-microbials. If you notice when you go on vacation your skin looks its best you can thank the fact that you’ve likely been getting more air and sun which help to kill bacteria and dry out pimples. Being inside all day with a hot swampy mask is well, not that.

Times are tough right now, especially for essential workers. But WHEN IT IS SAFE (e.g. in your own home and away from others) let your skin breathe. Open the windows, let some sunshine in and give yourself a 20 min shot of vitamin D from the bright bulb in the sky. Notice I said 20 minutes. We aren’t going for a tan, here.

You’ve gotten lazy with your cleansing or are using the wrong products for a heavy duty job

Deep cleansing is key and should be done at least twice a day. If you have dry skin or wear hard-to-remove makeup or sunscreen, start with an oil to break up debris. If you are acne-prone or have very oily skin you can skip this step. All skin types should do a double (if not triple) cleanse depending on the amount of grime you’re working against, with the last steps being a good foaming cleanser that will get every last bit out of your pores. I like CeraVe SA cleanser. It is foaming, works really well, and doesn’t strip my skin. Key words here. Deep cleaning, not stripping.  Your face should not feel like one swipe of your finger and it would sound like a Tupperware lid.

You don’t have the right products to fight bacteria

When your face feels like it is in a sweat box wrapped in Saran wrap, antibacterial and de-clogging ingredients are key. A good salicylic acid wash and treatment serum will help keep oil out of the pores. Antibacterial ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, witch hazel and tea tree will help kill bacteria and keep it from spreading.  Combining these with light exfoliants comprised of glycolic or lactic acid can help keep old, dead skin off the face*.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a time when you need to prioritize nourishing and protecting your skin barrier. Light exfoliation to keep the skin clear of old cells and dry skin is one thing. Sand blasting it raw so that your mask rubs across baby fresh skin with no protection it is not. EXFOLIANTS AND HARSH ANTIBACTERIALS SHOULD BE USED SPARINGLY and alternating. Go slow with introducing anything new. You want to protect the skin barrier to prevent pressure injuries. Less is more in that arena.  When there is moist air, keep it dry. When there is no moist air (for example at home or inside with heated or cooled air) you need moisture and ceramides. There are some great pimple identifiers and products to try from my post The Perturbing Pimple Puzzle.

This one is a trick that I don’t advocate for being the best for skin, but the science behind it works. I have very long thick hair that is lifted very blonde that I let air dry.  This also means my hair is wet and warm for a long time so I use an anti-fungal shampoo once a week to keep my scalp clean. If I notice some bumps in the areas from where I’ve been working out I’ll do a quick swipe of a very very small amount and give me a quick scrub down before my body wash. This can kill any fungi popping up after hanging out in my sports bra through a 2 hr long sweat sesh that is causing acne. I’ll say it again. I’m not advocating for washing your face and body with Head and Shoulders. But I’m saying if you have a flare caused by heat and sweat (and there are no dermatologists open at the moment) letting some of it slosh around for a minute on my problems areas has worked in the past as a last resort.

Foundations: The Fountain of Yuck

It is your personal preference, but I’m here to say that for the majority of us there is absolutely no reason to be wearing makeup on your face at the moment. PUT DOWN THE FOUNDATION. We all look a little frazzled at this point.

Putting makeup on your face and then covering it with a mask is just asking for trouble. Foundations are applied with brushes or fingers brimming with bacteria. Mix in the heat radiated from our bodies and moist, warm breath full of bacteria from our mouths trapped by the mask mixing with your foundations you’ve been swirling bacteria into for the past year since you’ve owned it, and you could not ask for a better petri dish for acne and other microbes.

I love makeup, but I also love not wearing makeup. Need some inspo? Read why I don’t feel the need to wear makeup everyday.

Your Diet is a Drag

This one is pretty straight forward so I won’t go into it too much. I haven’t met too many folks who are totally shocked that their fried food fiesta washed down with margaritas every night isn’t the healthiest. However, here’s a few scientific things to point out.

Dairy: Cheese, milk, yogurt and others contain hormones which can alter the way your endocrine system functions. This can result in acne. It is usually also high in oils and fats. Our body excretes what we eat through the digestive system but also our skin. A diet high in fat and oil can create more sebum and clogged pores.

Sugar: Diets high in sugar create inflammation which can be seen in the skin. This is sugar from anywhere and all forms whether it be from eating tons of fruits high in sugar or a 2 liter of Coke. Also of interest is that bacteria LOVES sugar. It is the reason why diabetics are more prone to infections. The more sugar you have floating around in your system, the more you’re setting yourself up for a possible run-in with sugar-toothed microbes. This means acne on your face, and potentially something super annoying like a urinary tract infection. Who wants to deal with that during a lock-down? No thanks.

Alcohol: Everything in moderation, but alcohol breaks down into sugars and most are fairly high on the inflammatory list. See why that is problematic above. It also causes vessels to dilate which gives you that flushed, pink look. Over time, this can put strain on micro-vessels, causing broken capillaries and that tell-tale pink tinge to the skin visible in heavy drinkers. Getting blasted also compounds into decreased will power to stick to our diets and skipping washing our faces. Two other culprits of acne.

Function Over Fashion

I’m a makeup artist, licensed aesthetician, and work in medical aesthetics. I am also graduating with my nursing degree in a few months. So I’m here to tell you that what you do now for your skin is important. Protecting it as much as you can is imperative.  It is your first line of defense.

During COVID-19 and wearing masks, this means relieving continued stress on pressure points (e.g. the cheeks, nose and ears) and providing a good seal with minimal irritation. The constant rubbing of masks on these areas can cause bruising, broken capillaries, hyperpigmentation and scarring. Some of which may not go away after it has healed. Not to mention it just hurts.

Some ideas to try:

  1. Put your declogging ingredients (salicylic acid) on first, then a high-silicone primer. Let the primer dry and apply another layer if need be to the areas with high-friction. Make sure to let it dry before applying the mask. This will help keep the pores clear, but the silicone in the primer will provide some slip to the skin and help with chaffing.  Apply throughout the day. This is when a proper deep cleansing will be really important, as silicone can clog pores.
  2. Apply moleskin or other protective material to your reusable mask or areas of the body prone to chafing
  3. Apply an anti-chafing productto the areas with high-friction. Patch test first to make sure the skin does not have allergies.
  4. Steer clear of heavy cream moisturizers, which can trap sweat and clog pores. Look for hyaluronic acid gels which hold a lot of moisture while keeping pores clear, or lotions if you need more moisture.
  5. Rotate how you secure the mask and where it sits every two hours if possible. This is easier said than done, especially for high-intensity situations, but if you have the ability make sure to shift your mask slightly or attach it with another means rather than behind the ears. The highest priority is effectiveness and safety, but a small change in the angle of tension or area of pressure before it becomes a problem can help.

In closing

I hope there are some nuggets in here that were helpful. I’m wishing everyone health and wellness during this time, and I’m so thankful you’ve decided to spend a few minutes of your day here.

Thank you again to the brave men and women who continue to take on COVID-19 day in and out. If you try any of these ideas, or have any of your own, PLEASE share them. Stay well, Readhead readers and continue to support your skin care therapists who love to help you look and feel your best.


*The authors of Readhead are not medical doctors nor giving medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider for any questions, including mask safety during COVID-19.




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