How to avoid skin problems from wearing a surgical mask in the heat

A girl wears a face mask in Colombia. The skin on your face can be irritated by wearing a A girl wears a face mask in Colombia. The skin on your face can be irritated by wearing a mask..
PHOTO: Reuters

Changes in the weather can affect our skin, especially when the temperature and humidity rise. These problems can be made worse when you wear a surgical mask all day long because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to experts, the skin on your face can become even more reactive when you wear a mask for long periods of time.

"Wearing a mask, especially in a humid climate, can have an adverse effect on the skin. The oil in your cosmetics or skincare and any excess sebum produced by your pores sit inside the lining of the mask. This is then in contact with your skin - sometimes for hours - [making it] a breeding ground for blemishes, clogged pores and breakouts," says doctor and founder of her own skincare line Barbara Sturm.

As these breakouts are not necessarily hormone-related, a different approach to your regular routine may be required.

Barbara Sturm says enzyme-based cleansers such as the one from her eponymous skincare line can be gentler on the skin.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Sturm advises exfoliating the skin more regularly to remove dead skin cells, which can accumulate under the mask, leading to excess bacteria and blocked pores.

Enzyme-based cleansers can be gentler on the skin, while clay-based masks can help the detoxification process.

"I put a layer of moisturising gel as a base before the mask so it still deep cleans without drying out the skin," advises ex-beauty executive and frequent mask wearer Angela Chan.

Breakouts are likely to be contained to specific areas of the face (such as the jawline), so spot treatments should also be added to your skincare routine.

Avoid aggressive and harsh chemicals such as salicylic acid, which can dry out the skin. Instead, look for formulas with antibacterial ingredients such as tea tree oil, lavender and zinc, which will target the pimple directly.

Sturm also recommends vitamin B3 to support the skin's renewal and healing properties.

Along with breakouts, mask wearers may experience chapped or dry skin, which is why keeping the skin hydrated is key.

A nourishing, non-comedogenic moisturiser (one that has been formulated to avoid causing clogged pores) will do the trick - gel formulas are great for humid climates - but look for ingredients that will help protect the skin from any external aggressors, including antioxidants such as green tea, vitamin E and seaweed.

The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil. Antibacterial ingredients such as tea tree oil can target spots directly.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Another item worth adding to your routine is a serum, which can be layered under your moisturiser for an added boost.

Sturm recommends hyaluronic acid, which has been clinically proven to hydrate both superficially for a plumping effect and to restore moisture reservoirs in deeper skin layers.

"It's a common misconception that skin prone to breakouts should be dried out. In fact, it is even more important to moisturise, as most breakouts are exacerbated by dryness-triggered inflammation. It helps to restore its natural barrier function. Robust, protected and healthy skin has lower frequency and duration of acne breakouts," she says.

Since protecting the skin is important, one cannot forgo wearing sunscreen daily - even if half of your face is covered by a mask.

"Protection against air pollution and high-energy visible light rays is more important than ever," says Sturm.

"With global quarantine conditions, internet service has already spiked 50 per cent. Flat-screen TVs, mobile phone, computer and tablet screens emit a high-energy blue light that penetrates the skin more deeply than UV rays and causes similar damage - premature photo-ageing, skin discolourations, inflammation, skin barrier function damage and dry, irritated skin."

If all else fails, she has one final word of advice for those looking to keep their skin in top condition.

"I recommend limiting or eliminating make-up for the time being - it will exacerbate skin problems triggered by the mask. It's the easiest way to allow your skin to heal and have full skin barrier functions to protect from stressors outside. No make-up, no irritating and aggressive ingredients, no acid peels or lasers. Heal and protect your skin," she says.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.