By: Dr. Melissa Cugliari
Wearing a mask has become the new normal. With this change, breakouts, redness and irritation along the jawline + mouth area has become so common, especially for those of us who need to wear face coverings for hours on end at work or while caring for others.
This trend in skin imbalance is no surprise; because masks cover the mouth and nose, the moist air that we emit on exhalation creates a moist microenvironment between the fabric and skin barrier, which is hospitable to the growth of acne-causing bacteria. In some cases, the detergents used to launder masks or the fabric itself can be a source of irritation or allergy for some individuals.
Because masks aren’t avoidable at this time, it is paramount to make a few changes to your skincare routine to accommodate mask wearing while preventing irritation or breakouts.
Firstly, select a mask that is made of natural fibres. Organic cotton is an ideal choice which is easy to launder. Silk is another option if you have very sensitive skin that is prone to irritation. You may even consider a mask that is made of material that has been woven with silver fibres; silver is a natural anti-microbial and can help keep bacteria at bay.
Launder your mask regularly. If you are using a reusable mask, which is recommended where possible to decrease environmental impact, make sure you are washing this daily. I suggest having three to four reusable masks on rotation to make this process as convenient as possible. Use a fragrance-free, gentle natural detergent and wash on hot if the fabric allows. Avoid fabric softeners which will leave behind residue that may be irritating to the skin.
Disposable masks are meant to be disposed of after one use. Reusing these compromises their efficacy and they will become a reservoir for bacteria and other irritating debris.
When touching your mask (taking it off/putting it on), ensure your hands have been freshly sanitized or washed. This will limit the amount of microbes get on the mask in the first place. When taking your mask off midday, instead of putting it in a pocket or loose in your bag, store it in a ziplock bag that is designated just for your mask; this will prevent the mask from collecting debris from other items it comes into contact with.
In terms of skincare, it is important to allow the skin barrier to maintain its function and breathe as much as possible. Avoid wearing heavy creams, oils and makeup over masked areas. If you are able, spritz the skin with thermal spring water (available at most pharmacies) and dab with fresh tissue or gauze throughout the day.
Ensure you cleanse your face as soon as possible when you arrive at home and are finished with your mask for the day. My personal preference is oil cleansing using organic Jojoba oil and a fresh wash cloth. To oil cleanse, apply a pipette-full of jojoba oil to a clean washcloth (ideally made of natural, organic fabric like cotton or bamboo) and, using circular motions, gently rub the face in circular motion to remove all makeup and debris. You may repeat this if you have been wearing your mask for a long time or if you were wearing makeup. Jojoba oil is ideal because it is a very close match to your skin’s natural sebum or oils, meaning it does not strip or disrupt the skin barrier, and actually supports its natural function. When we have a strong skin barrier, we have less of a chance of irritation or breakout.
I recommend avoiding harsh cleansers, acids, and using too many products. This can often cause irritation without us knowing, and make the skin more vulnerable. If you are suffering from breakouts, consider applying one drop of organic Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), Cape Chamomile or Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia) essential oils to affected areas.
Ultimately, if you are struggling with your skin and these solutions do not improve your situation, it is important to seek the assistance of a registered health care provider to assist you in uncovering the root cause of the skin imbalance. Naturopathic medicine is an incredible way to strengthen the body’s natural healing ability.