Even with vaccines for COVID-19 coming down the pipeline over the next few months, wearing a facemask remains an important strategy for reducing your risk of contracting the virus. But facemasks sometimes bring an unwanted side effect—chafing, red patches or rashes that may be a sign of contact dermatitis.
“Over time, the mask rubbing in one place may cause irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin types,” says aesthetician Pamela Dunn at Atlantic Health System’s Chambers Center for Well-Being.
These four tips can help soothe irritated skin while wearing a mask.
- Choose Cotton
Many medical-grade facemasks contain fibers that may irritate the skin. If you don’t have to wear a medical-grade mask, consider wearing cotton masks. They’re softer and still protect you and others from contracting COVID-19. “Cotton masks significantly reduce chafing and contact dermatitis,” Dunn says.
- Start a Regular Cleaning Ritual
Each time you wear your mask, it will get dirty with bacteria, makeup, food particles or skin cells. To keep cotton masks clean and your skin healthy, Dunn recommends washing masks by hand each day. “Use an antibacterial soap or a similar cleaner,” she says. Let the mask soak for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse it out. If you have more than one mask, you can wear clean ones while the soiled masks are being washed. You may run cotton masks through the washing machine, but beware of fabric softeners and other products that also might irritate the skin.
- Loosen it Up Face
Masks should cover your mouth and nose, but unless you’re a medical professional, they don’t need to be super tight. If you experience discomfort or signs of dermatitis at contact points, such as on the bridge of your nose or the bottom of your chin, you may find relief by wearing your mask a bit looser. Another trick used by healthcare providers: put a small piece of tissue between your mask and the affected skin area. “This will allow your skin to heal and give you a little protection,” Dunn says.
- Consider Professional-grade Skin Treatment
The more you moisturize and care for your skin, the better it will tolerate the presence of a facemask. Treatments such as a facial or clear skin treatment from a licensed aesthetician can help remove dead skin cells, clean pores that may be clogged by mask-wearing, and prevent future breakouts. “I’ve seen people’s skin conditions make 180-degree turnarounds with proper exfoliation and hydration,” Dunn says. Using an anti-itch cream or lotion to soothe irritated skin may help in minor cases of contact dermatitis caused by masking. But if symptoms don’t go away—or if they become painful, widespread or cause you to lose sleep—it’s time to see a dermatologist who can offer medical treatments.