From running the risk of face mask-induced skin irritation, contact dermatitis, allergic reactions to face mask fabrics and ingredients, to the dreaded "maskne", finding the right face mask for your skin type is a path laden with pitfalls.
Wearing a protective face mask might be helpful in preventing the spread of Covid-19, but for anyone who has sensitive skin, choosing the best coronavirus face mask isn't easy. From running the risk of face mask-induced skin irritation, contact dermatitis, allergic reactions to face mask fabrics and ingredients, to the dreaded "maskne", finding the right face mask for your skin type is a path laden with pitfalls.
Tatler talked to Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, author of Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow about how anyone with sensitive skin can confidently choose a face mask. Skotnicki is the founder of the Bay Dermatology Centre and an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto. Here's her expert advice on how to wear a protective face mask during the coronavirus crisis without irritating your skin.
How important is it to wear a face mask in this current crisis?
"These are confusing times as the CDC just released a statement to wear masks and the WHO said they don't help," Skotnicki says. "From my own review, masks will help protect others if you are infected, or if you are an asymptomatic carrier. I personally think they should be worn in crowded public spaces."
What types of face masks are best for people with sensitive skin?
"As far as materials—cotton layers would be the best option for patients with sensitive skin," Skotnicki says. "The synthetic masks—i.e. surgical masks, etc.—are manufactured from non-woven fabrics essentially made from plastics like polypropylene. During their production, formaldehyde may be produced. I published a case of allergy to this during [the] SARS [crisis] in Toronto. This ingredient in synthetic masks is also likely the source of irritation after wearing these masks for many hours. So cotton masks made of several layers would be the best option for those with sensitive skin."
What skincare products should be used before, during, or after wearing a face mask?
"I have been recommending barrier-type creams or reparative creams—that help form a barrier but also help reduce irritation or inflammation caused by wearing the masks," Skotnicki says. She suggests people will sensitive skin consider products including La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5, Bioderma Cicabio Cream and Avene Cicalfate Cream.
When to change your mask
"If the mask gets moist no matter what it's made of—synthetic non-woven fibres (surgical mask) or cotton—this causes friction which results in more irritation to the skin. So a good rule would be, if possible, to change the mask when it gets moist."
Can you wear makeup under face masks?
"No makeup makes sense," Skotnicki says. "But if you must—wear the barrier creams mentioned above and put a bit of foundation over the barrier cream."
What are some home remedies for face mask irritation?
"Over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams would be the best option to be used at night or when you have your off-time if you work shifts," Skotnicki says. "Cover this with the barrier or reparative creams I mention above. If this doesn't work, then an appointment with a dermatologist for a stronger topical cream would be helpful."
This article was originally published on April 30, 2020 and was updated on March 4, 2022.