Skin Health and Mask Wearing

by Magdalena Tomczak

In the last few months, I’ve been getting many emails and messages from clients asking for advice on how to tackle skin problems related to mask wearing.

This post is not a commentary on whether or not to wear a mask but rather it’s a look at how wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time affects your skin mechanically, chemically and biologically.

It’s rather unnatural for our face to be covered and consequently it’s no wonder that our skin is having a hard time. Depending on your skin type and how long you cover your face for daily, you may be prone to an array of skin conditions.Sensitive, combination and oily skin types will most likely experience the adverse reactions to face coverings the most.

Wearing a mask may impact skin in the following ways:

  • mechanically – by causing pressure, micro-abrasion and heat – a mask may restrict blood and lymph flow, produce skin irritation, redness and inflammation
  • biologically – by creating a hot damp environment a mask will – increase oil production, intensify microbial activity on the skin and have an impact on the function of blood vessels and will interfere with normal blood supply
  • chemically – by the type of mask (surgical, cloth… ) you choose to wear. A non surgical mask – is made of Polypropylene (PP) which is a thermoplastic “addition polymer” made from the combination of propylene monomers. It is used in a variety of applications to include packaging for consumer products, plastic parts for various industries including the automotive industry, special devices like living hinges, and textiles. Cloth masks – from the holistic skin care perspective, we see organic non dyed silk fabric as the most complementary to human skin and non toxic.

Pressure, micro-abrasion, a warm and damp environment underneath the face covering and possible plastic toxic off-gasses may aggravate sensitive and combination skin conditions causing irritation and inflammation (especially in hot, humid weather), eczema like flare ups and red bumps/changes to skin texture. If you are already prone to acne, you may also see an increase in the activity and an increase in oiliness in the T-zone. Oily skin may become more oily while wearing a mask and microbial activity may increase possibly causing acne and breakouts and more of the oily sheen to the face in general.

I also hear from clients who have to wear a mask at work, and are exposed to chemical disinfectants all day long. As a result, they’re experiencing serious dermatitis and eczema flareups and allergic reactions on their faces around their mouth and eyes. This is very challenging and difficult to address without actually removing the toxic irritant (disinfectant) from the equation.

How to help your skin during this time?

If you must wear a mask at work, don’t wear makeup! Makeup which sits on the surface of your skin will create a problem under a mask even for the healthiest and most balanced skin. Foundation, ‘coverups’, blush, lipstick… these are a self-explanatory no-no. In general opt for gentler products. Now is definitely not the time to experiment with acids, peels and harsh scrubs on your skin. Not that it ever is, if you ask me:)

Adjust your skin care routine to include products which will actually offer the function which is needed at this time (calming, balancing, softening…) Regardless your skin type, your evening cleansing routine is very important and you don’t ever want to skip it now.

I personally love gentle oil cleansing and this is what I recommend to my clients at Woman Divine. If you’ve never tried oil cleansing, you may want to start with simple organic jojoba oil. If you like it, you can upgrade to a proper well balanced oil cleanser from your favourite plant based skin care line.

If you are experiencing a lot of skin redness, irritation, skin bumps, eczema, dermatitis, please don’t exfoliate until your skin calms down. If you choose to exfoliate, you are more likely to make the existing condition worse. Any product which creates lots of friction and micro-abrasion, is alcohol based or offers the function of peeling of the skin which will make it worse.

Instead, for sensitized, red, inflamed skin, you may want to add skin calming practices like: compressing your face with calming herbal infusion of calendula + chamomile + marshmallow or rose.

You can add the following compressing practice to your evening skin care routine: equal parts of above mentioned herbs can be infused in hot water for 60min+ , then strained, then used for saturating a face cloth, then this face cloth is placed on the face for a few minutes.

I also recommend using Rose or Lavender hydrosol and making sure that your face oil, serum or balm is created to actually calm the redness, inflammation, irritation. If not, you will need to make a switch until your skin is back to it’s calm happy self. A soothing white clay mask may be applied weekly. A simple Manuka honey mask will also offer lovely support to irritated, dry, blemished or acne skin.

1 fl. oz. jojoba oil
0.5 fl oz. calendula herbal oil
0.5 fl oz. rosehip seed oil
along with 5 drops Lavender essential oil, 3 drops German chamomile essential oil, and 2 drops Neroli essential oil.

When there is redness combined with dryness, your skin needs to be soothed and softened. It also needs a very gentle touch:) I would recommend an organic Rose hydrosol in combination with face balms containing Shea butter and soothing herbs like calendula, chamomile, marshmallow.

If your skin is feeling irritated, red but at the same time oily, your skin needs to be soothed and the oil production needs to be invited to slow down a wee bit. This kind of skin condition will also benefit from Rose hydrosol but rather than balm I would opt for a lighter soothing and balancing oil.

If you are experiencing acne due to wearing a mask or existing acne is worse because of it, keeping on top of your cleansing routine is very important.

A combination of calendula, plantain and rosemary can be infused in hot water and prepared as a facial compress or a face wash. A green clay mask can prove helpful and a Manuka honey mask is always great. These can be applied once a week.

A very gentle exfoliant may also be useful and I often recommend this simple Ayurvedic formula to my clients:

1 tbsp of chickpea flour + 1/8 tsp of turmeric.
Mix it well and store in a little jar.

Use it every 3-4 days after cleansing your face. All you need is a pinch of this powder and a bit of water. Make it almost watery consistency and use it like you would any scrub. Chickpea serves here as a very gentle exfoliant and it also absorbs excess oil. Turmeric is an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. It keeps redness and inflammation under control and prevents pimples.

A simple facial lymphatic drainage self-massage always offers amazing support to our skin. I highly recommend learning how to do this for yourself and do it regularly. You will find your skin becomes clearer, brighter and healthier overall.

Whenever possible, let your skin breath. I am not an expert on masks but I suggest that you do your research regarding how long they can sit on your face before they need to be replaced or washed. This is very important. A mask can become a breeding ground for undesirable microbes on your skin.

I hope that you will find this information helpful.