Wearing a face mask when we head out has become the new normal. Our skin, however, may take a little longer to get used to this.
“Everyone’s skin is different, and it would react in different ways to wearing masks,” said Dr YX Lum, a medical doctor at IDS Clinic.
“During this time, people with acne-prone skin will be more susceptible to getting more acne; people with sensitive skin or eczema may experience more rashes and dry skin; and people with inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea may experience more swelling.”
No matter your skin type, the best way to help skin cope during this period is by paying extra attention to every detail from cleansing to protecting skin to strengthening its barrier.
Here's a doctor-approved, step-by-step guide.
PREP SKIN BEFORE WEARING A MASK
Skin is delicate and it can become irritated if dirt or facial oil is left to sit on the face. The irritation can intensify if grime is “trapped” under a face mask – the air you’re breathing that’s trapped in the mask can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
"To minimise breakouts and skin irritation, one can try to strengthen the skin and its barrier," said Dr Lum. He suggested maintaining good skin health practises such as making a habit of applying topical antioxidants, using a good and suitable moisturiser and protecting skin with products that can shield the skin from pollutants and other harmful particles.
“Prepare the skin by cleansing with a gentle cleanser then follow up with a gentle toner and an antioxidant product, and finish up with sunscreen,” said Dr Lum. “If you are wearing a very tight mask, it will be advisable to put on a soothing healing balm to minimise the amount of friction and injuries the mask may cause.”
Alas, a face mask is not a magic shield. Environmental aggressors such as harmful UV rays, blue light and pollution can still harm skin if it’s not protected. The most effective way to protect the skin is by wearing sunscreen under the face mask.
“Sunscreen forms a protective layer over the skin,” said Dr Lum. To further strengthen skin’s health, consider a sunscreen formula that comes with skincare benefits like hydrating, moisturising and regenerating capabilities.
SHOULD YOU WEAR MAKEUP?
“It is not wrong to wear makeup,” said Dr Lum. “However, some of the foundation that we wear may contain ingredients that can lead to the clogging of pores, especially because of the increased humid conditions under the mask.”
Since a face mask generally covers more than half the face, few will have the privilege of seeing that blemish on your chin so why not skip makeup and concealer? But if you must wear makeup, a bit of eye makeup is unlikely to affect the skin’s health.
“After the mask comes off, it is important to wash the face thoroughly with a gentle cleanser to get rid of dirt, facial oil and bacteria,” said Dr Lum.
Top up on the skin’s moisture, that’s been stripped away by the cleanser, with a moisturiser – for quicker absorption, apply when skin is still slightly damp. “A suitable lightweight moisturiser forms a barrier against environmental dirt and pollutants. Look out for ingredients such as ceramides or aloe vera for added soothing benefit.”
Those suffering from acne should refrain from tackling angry zits with harsh products that contain high concentrations of retinoids or benzoyl peroxide as that may further irritate skin.
“Soothe, protect and treat the oily skin and acne with gentle products,” said Dr Lum. “Treat acne with antioxidants like vitamin C or calming ingredients like topical probiotics that not only reduce inflammation but also reduce the harmful bacterial load.”
If your skin is starting to show signs of swelling as a result of friction against the face mask, bring the swelling down by icing or applying a cold mask. Besides a one-off soothing cold mask, consider stepping up on masking altogether – at least a few times a week according to Dr Lum – to increase skin’s hydration which in turn strengthens the skin barrier, enabling it to better able to hold up against whatever we put it through.