Suffocated, claustrophobic and scared, these three words perfectly sum up how I feel each time I wear a face mask. My fears are nothing compared to that of healthcare workers, who wear the masks for hours, tirelessly working to treat patients with COVID-19. The popular social media image of an Italian nurse with angry, red bruises on her face is permanently burnt into my brain. The marks on her face spoke of the mental and physical trauma of wearing personal protective equipment for long hours.
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The N95 masks are airtight, which means they offer complete protection from contamination, but also create friction and exert pressure on skin. Dr Devyani Barve-Venkat, a plastic, aesthetic and reconstructive surgeon says, “Masks trap moisture which changes the delicate equilibrium of skin causing irritation, rashes, clogged pores, acne and eczema.” While not wearing a mask in public spaces isn’t an option, there are a few steps you can take to soothe your skin and avoid breakouts.
Time it right
Whether you’re applying mosturiser or sunscreen, be sure to finish your skincare routine atleast an hour or two hours before you have to step outside and put on a mask. This ensures the products are absorbed into your skin and will keep the mask from sliding off your face.
Alter you skincare routine
Soothe skin barrier damage (common signs include redness and dehydrated skin) with a ceramide-rich cream. Dr Barve-Venkat advices, “Use gentle, clinically-tested products and avoid make-up as much as possible.” Sweat will cause your make-up to break down faster and it can clog your pores, ultimately causing acne. “Apply a fragrance-free, non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic moisturiser with SPF and if you’re wearing a reusable mask, make sure there is no detergent residue post-wash,” she says.
Make ear guards
If the elastic on the mask has been grazing against the delicate skin behind your ears, find another spot to hook on your mask. You can sew two buttons on a headband, right by the ears to create your own guard.
Photograph: Porus Vimadalal