Have you heard of “mask rash?” It’s a condition that has become much more common lately as more people wear masks to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Useful as masks may be in trapping infectious droplets, they can also trap sweat, heat, and allergens that are potentially damaging to the skin. If you’re suffering from mask rash or other mask-related skin irritations, we have some tips that can help.
What is Mask Rash?
A mask rash typically refers to an angry red rash that develops around the nose and mouth due to extensive mask-wearing. The rash looks red and irritated and may have raised bumps or even pimples within it.
Mask rash and other types of irritation can develop for the following reasons:
- Masks trap heat and oil against the skin, creating a hot and moist environment conducive to the development of rashes and acne.
- Moisture builds up under masks and coupled with the pressure of the mask against the face, can cause pressure-related skin damage.
- Friction between the mask and the skin—particularly on the nose, chin, and behind the ears—can cause irritation and inflammation.
- Bacteria can accumulate inside the mask, trapped there from the breath and the outside world, causing irritation and inflammation and increasing the risk of infections.
- The material of the mask may be irritating, depending on skin sensitivities.
Studies show that in previous pandemics, such as the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, masks caused significant skin irritations. In a 2006 study from Singapore, researchers looked at skin reactions in over 300 healthcare workers, and found among those wearing N95 masks, 60 percent reported an increase in acne, 36 percent reported a rash, and 51 percent reported itch or dermatitis.
These issues are not only problematic for your skin, but they can also increase your risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 or other viruses and bacteria. When your skin is itchy and irritated, you are more likely to reach up and touch your face, adjust your mask, or try to scratch the itchy spot, which breaks the mask’s barrier and increases the risk of contamination.
How to Prevent and Treat Mask Rash and Other Mask-Related Skin Problems
To increase your odds of maintaining healthy skin during this mask-wearing time, follow these tips. They can also help treat any existing irritations you may have.
1. Always Address Issues Immediately
It’s important to address any skin issues you see as soon as you discover them. Prevention and treatment will be most effective in the early stages, so don’t wait and tough it out. Do something now.
2. Choose the Right Material
There are many masks to choose from. To reduce your risk of skin irritation, put comfort first. Look for something soft, natural, and breathable, like 100-percent cotton.
Avoid synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and rayon, as they are more likely to make you sweat, and will trap moisture, heat, and oil against the skin, increasing the risk of acne and irritation.
3. Use Zinc to Help Prevent Friction
If you have areas of the skin where the mask seems to rub, you can use the same zinc oxide you would use for sunscreen as a barrier. You want the same stuff lifeguards use to prevent sunburn or that parents use to treat diaper rash.
Zinc fights inflammation and also keeps a strong barrier on the skin, helping to prevent irritation from rubbing. Simply apply a thin layer on those areas of the skin that tend to be affected.
4. Moisturize Throughout the Day
Applying some sort of moisturizer throughout the day helps create a barrier between your skin and the mask, reducing friction. If you’re struggling with rashes and red marks in certain areas like on the nose and chin, friction is probably the issue, and moisture will help.
You don’t want a heavy moisturizer, though, as it will trap too much moisture against the skin. We recommend our Rescue + Relief Spray because it’s light and fast—just spritz some on and go. It also contains natural heat-removing ingredients to help cool skin, plus anti-inflammatory ingredients to reduce inflammation and help prevent rashes and acne.
Try applying once every two hours to lightly dampen skin.
5. Keep Your Skin Clean
This is extremely important anytime, but particularly so when wearing masks regularly. Always clean your face before and after wearing the mask. Cleansing before you put it on ensures that your skin is free of debris that could cause problems when trapped against your face. Cleansing afterward helps ensure that you get rid of any debris that becomes trapped during the day.
Stick to gentle cleansing formulas that are calming to the skin to help decrease irritation and inflammation.
6. Consider Using Less Makeup
Any makeup you have in areas the mask covers is likely to rub against the mask and be redeposited on the skin, increasing the risk of irritation and acne. Foundations and concealers, in particular, can increase the humidity under the mask and affect the skin’s natural oil production, potentially leading to more breakouts.
Since your mask covers most of your face anyway, focus on your eyes and eyebrows, then leave the rest of the skin bare with moisturizer only.
7. Always Apply Moisturizer After Washing
Your skin has a thin outer layer that protects you from microorganisms and damaging toxins. As long as this barrier is healthy, you’re less likely to suffer from rashes and irritations. It can become compromised with extensive mask-wearing if you experience dryness, scrapes, and redness.
The right moisturizer will have barrier-supporting ingredients like natural oils and shea butter to help maintain skin health. We recommend our Calming Moisture. Not only will it protect and hydrate, but it also has oat-based anti-itch ingredients and soothing anti-inflammatory oils and extracts. Try to apply at least 30 minutes before putting on the mask, to allow the moisturizer to sink into the skin.
8. Treat Any Irritated Areas
If your skin is irritated, your best option is to go without a mask for a day or two. If that is impossible, treat that area and protect it before wearing the mask again.
We recommend our Restorative Skin Balm. Apply to any red spots, chapped areas, or irritated places to help soothe and heal the skin. It’s a rich, thick salve designed to coat the skin and create a soothing barrier, but it’s free of synthetic fragrances and dyes so it’s non-irritating.
Natural oils, bee’s wax, and carnauba all safeguard the skin’s barrier, while plant-based antioxidants help protect the skin from further assault. Apply before putting the mask on, then take it with you to reapply throughout the day as needed. This is also a great product to apply overnight to help heal irritated patches.
9. Regularly Switch Out and Clean Your Masks
Ideally, you’d wear your mask just once before switching it out or cleaning it. Having more than one mask allows you to do this regularly, allowing one to completely dry out while you wear the other. This helps prevent the buildup of germs, sweat, and grime that can further irritate your skin.
10. Talk to Your Dermatologist
If you follow all these tips and still struggle with rashes and other serious skin problems, talk to your dermatologist. As long as you have to continue wearing a mask, these problems will only get worse without treatment, so don’t hesitate to find out what else you can do to care for your skin.
Have you struggled with mask rash and mask irritation lately?
Foo, Chris C., Anthony T. Goon, Yung-Hian Leow, and Chee-Leok Goh. “Adverse skin reactions to personal protective equipment against severe acute respiratory syndrome: a descriptive study in Singapore.” Contact Dermatitis 55, no. 5 (2006), 291-294. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.2006.00953.x.