How COVID-19 and Fine Dust Masks Affect Our Skin

How COVID-19 and Fine Dust Masks Affect Our Skin

Wearing masks is a common occurrence for those that live in countries that suffer from fine dust pollution, also commonly referred to as smog. But now with COVID-19, the rest of the world has followed suit to wearing masks to protect themselves from the highly infectious virus.

With the widespread use of masks, skin problems stemming from the long wear use of them have been brought to light. Not only are they uncomfortable to wear, but they cause unwanted and even painful skin conditions like acne, dryness, rashes, and other irritations to not only medical professionals that use them, but many other individuals.
So you may be wondering why are we experiencing these skin conditions, how does wearing masks affect our skin, and how can we prevent these problems from occurring in the first place?

In order to address these questions, we will touch on the very thing that protects our skin from outside sources—the skin barrier.

Skin Barrier

The skin barrier (AKA moisture barrier) is the outermost layer of our skin that protects us from environmental irritants while keeping moisture from escaping. You can visualize the skin barrier like a brick wall with the corneocytes (skin cells) as the bricks and lipid layers as the cement that keeps the cell structure together. The lipid layers are made of ceramides, cholesterol, and free fatty acids, which if in balance, makes a healthy skin barrier and if unbalanced, makes a weakened skin barrier that is vulnerable to skin conditions. Over exfoliation, over washing, bad air quality, and stress are factors that can worsen the skin barrier. If you ever noticed your skin feeling tight, red, flaky, oily, and irritated all at the same time, you probably have a compromised skin barrier.
But how does this relate to wearing masks? Although masks are great for protecting your immune system and lungs from external elements, it also creates the perfect environment for your skin barrier to weaken over time.

How Masks Damage the Skin Barrier

You probably have noticed how much hotter and humid inside the mask is when it’s worn. Your skin is likely to produce more sebum in response which can cause disruption to your skin barrier, much like what happens during the summer. In addition to this, as the mask is designed to keep air flow constricted, the lack of air flow creates the perfect condition for skin irritating bacteria to form.
The combination of the skin being exposed to a hot and humid mask environment, sebum, and bacteria causes the skin barrier to eventually break down. Simple practices such as changing masks regularly and taking the mask off often to let the skin breathe are recommended to prevent skin barrier damage, but sometimes it’s not possible. The answer lies in your skincare routine.
Blue surgical mask on a blue backgroun

Steps to Repair and Maintain Your Weakened Skin Barrier

Step 1

Cleanse your skin thoroughly with a low pH cleanser.

  • It’s important to remove dirt, sebum, bacteria, and other impurities from the skin especially after prolonged face mask wear, but it’s equally important that you use a low pH cleanser with lukewarm water so that there isn’t any added dryness.


Gel cleanser laying on the ground

Step 2

Treat your skin with the right ingredients.
  • When your skin is feeling irritated, you should look for ingredients that will repair the skin barrier, retain water in the skin (humectants), and soothe the skin.

Repairing Ingredients

  • Ceramide
  • Niacinamide
  • Squalane
  • Free fatty acids (plant oils)

Water Retaining Ingredients

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerine
  • Sodium Hyaluronate
  • Butylene Glycol

Soothing Ingredients

  • Centella Asiatica
  • Aloe Vera
  • Calendula Extract
  • Mugwort

Step 3

Wear less makeup or no makeup.

  • The humidity and lack of airflow in the mask causes your skin to absorb makeup and other impurities on the skin leading to acne. We recommend wearing makeup around the mask or just skip it entirely!

Step 4

Wear sunscreen daily.

  • Using sunscreen is the easiest way to protect your skin barrier — the sun can easily damage the skin barrier which you can see through redness or sunburn. Don’t forget that even when it’s not sunny outside, UV rays are still present, so keep using sunscreen daily!

Although it’s hard to control what's happening around us, we can control how it affects us and our skin. A good skincare routine is rooted in consistency, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t see results right away as it takes time for the skin barrier to heal. With the right products and patience, you will be rewarded with happy, glowing skin.

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