How face masks cause irritation

How face masks cause irritation
How face masks cause irritation


There are a variety of ways in which wearing a face mask can disrupt your skin. With everything from how long you’re wearing your mask for, to how you’re washing it and how tightly fitted it is can have an impact.

How face masks cause irritation

We’ve all seen the photos of our exhausted front-line staff sporting painful red marks across their faces. While this is in part due to their achingly long shifts, it’s also down to the close-fitting design of PPE masks.

According to Dr Justine, it doesn’t take long for skin to become irritated across pressure areas. The bony bits of our faces, like the nasal bridge and ears, where the skin is thinnest, tend to be the hardest hit.

Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to alleviate this. However Dr Justine advises that moisturising skin properly before applying your mask can go someway towards reducing irritation.

Different to PPE, fabric masks worn by the general public also have the potential to cause irritation.

To keep them sanitary, all face masks need to be put on a hot wash with a glug of strong detergent after use. This can lead to irritation or allergies, as we're not all used to having perfumed cleaning agents so close to the delicate skin on our faces. Making sure the detergent has been properly rinsed out will help.

How face masks cause breakouts

Rising temperatures and tight-fitting clothing are a recipe for breakouts, as oil and and bacteria become trapped in the gap between fabric and skin.

For the same reason experts recommend stripping off sweaty gym kit as soon as possible, don’t wear your mask for longer than necessary.

Washing your face regularly and using products containing pore-unplugging salicylic acid once the mask is off will help too.

How face masks can cause eczema


Wearing a mask will naturally warm up our skin, creating the kind of moist, snuggly environment that yeast thrives in.

According to Dr Justine, when yeast becomes more prevalent on the skin, the skin barrier is compromised, and we’re more likely to develop particular types of eczema.

This can exasperate existing inflammatory conditions like rosacea too.


The main role of the skin barrier, as defined by Vichy Advising Dermatology Registrar Dr Mieran Sethi, is to prevent the entry of viruses and bacteria that can lead to inflammation. The barrier is also responsible for stopping water from escaping so skin stays elastic and supple, not dry and flaking.

The easiest way to picture the skin barrier is to think of it like a wall.

Natural lipids like ceramides act like mortar to hold the bricks, AKA our skin cells, together. When this mortar is compromised, external aggressors like pollution can sneak in, and water can get out.


Not sure if you need to adjust your routine to fit in with the ‘new normal’? Dr Justine shares her top tips on caring for your skin when you’re wearing a face mask, and they’re surprisingly straightforward.

  • Wash your face with a nice, gentle cleanser. If your skin feels tight, it’s probably as you have disrupted the skin’s barrier and altered its PH.
  • Look out for ingredients like humectants, glycerine, ceramides and hyaluronic acid within your cleanser and moisturiser. It’s really important to put these important elements back into your skin if you’ve washed them away.
  • Cut back on actives like retinol and glycolic acid. Use them less regularly until your skin is feeling more comfortable, and counteract them with hydrating products when you do apply them.
  • If you get a breakout or reaction, resist the temptation to change your routine. Instead, continue using gentle, hydrating products to repair the skin’s barrier.