Sunday 12 July 2020

The (skin) Problem with Face Masks

Credit: Audere Beaute
News of face masks being made compulsory in shops, to fight coronavirus (COVID-19), has raised many questions. The one I'm hearing a lot is whether face masks can cause any skin problems. Luckily I got the opportunity to speak with Dr Tiina Meder - dermatologist, doctor, and founder of Meder Beauty Science - to get some the answers. Spoiler alert, wearing a face mask can cause breakouts, redness, and irritation...

Can wearing a face mask affect the skin?

Unfortunately, wearing a mask can cause problems. We have already seen an increase in cases of perioral dermatitis, particularly in the medical community around the world, as well as inflammatory skin conditions (such as spots and eczema). Breathing when wearing a mask causes moisture to become trapped within the mask's material, creating an ideal breeding ground for pathogens – helping them to grow out of control. So constant mask wearing can easily lead to redness, itching, and breakouts in the mid and lower part of your face.

How can I prevent face mask related skin problems?

The best way to prevent skin irritation, breakouts, and ‘mask dermatitis’ is to only wear a mask when it is necessary. She also stresses the importance of ensuring that when you remove your mask, you place it in a clean ziplock bag (until you are ready to wash it), cleanse your face and reapply serums and face creams.

Are there certain types of face masks I should avoid? 

Medical masks are made from synthetic materials such as polyethylene terephthalate and polypropylene. These fabrics are often treated with chemicals, for example Formaldehyde to keep insects at bay whilst shipping. These chemicals can irritate the skin with constant wearing. Medical masks are hydrophobic (they repel water), helping to protect the wearer from micro-droplets. This makes them more occlusive and dangerous for skin health.

If you are thinking about creating a home-made mask, use an old t-shirt as the fabric will be kinder to your skin. However, this type of fabric is hydrophilic, meaning they absorb water. When used as a single layer it cannot protect us with the same efficiency as a medical mask. I advise always doubling up in layers and adding a filter if you can.

Are there any products you recommend using if you regularly wear a face mask?

I always recommend microbiome-friendly skincare, which helps to restore a healthy balance of the skin’s microflora. This is especially important in stressed or compromised skin. Opt for a prebiotic cleanser such as the Meder Beauty Science Net-Apax Cleansing Mask, which is perfect for sensitive, sensitised, and blemish-prone skin.

Take care to avoid ingredients that are potentially comedogenic and irritating. This includes oils, silicone, fragrance, lanolin (look for acetylated lanolin alcohol, ethoxylated lanolin, PEG 16 lanolin and solulan 16 on the label), and petrochemicals (which can pop up under the guise of paraffin wax, mineral oil, or petrolatum).

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