How To Prevent Irritation Caused by Protective Face Masks

Why protective face masks can be irritating to the skin (and how you can prevent it)

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While many medical professionals already wear protective masks every day, wearing a face mask out in public has suddenly become a part of everyday life for the rest of us as well. Face masks are essential to preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s taking a toll on our skin. If you’ve been wearing one for even an hour, you’ll be familiar with the stifling, airless environment your skin is exposed to.

Face masks may be necessary for now, but blemishes and irritated skin aren’t. Keeping reading to learn how to prevent the negative effects of wearing a face mask.

Why your skin can become irritated while wearing a material face mask.


While wearing a mask your breathing is trapped, creating a humid environment for your skin. Not only is this irritating, but it can also cause the growth of skin organisms that otherwise are asymptomatic such as Pityrosporum yeast which plays a role in seborrheic dermatitis, ‘fungal’ acne and rosacea. Great!

Masks also cause problems by rubbing your skin creating friction which can disrupt your protective moisture barrier.  Your moisture barrier is made up of lipids that keep moisture in while keeping irritants out. If something is rubbing against your skin all day, it can create tiny cracks in your barrier. This then has the opposite effect—moisture escapes and irritants get in. 

This friction and humidity also create a perfect environment for breakouts to thrive. As your breath traps moisture and heat, which stimulates oil flow. This combo of oil, heat, and moisture is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.  Another reason protective face masks can cause breakouts is the pressure they exert on your pores.

You may notice that, after removing a mask, you have indents in your skin from where it was pressing up against your face. These indents could actually be changing the shape of your pores, causing a buildup of oil. Imagine your pores as a network of tubes under your skin that funnels oil to the surface. Oil is meant to flow freely through these tubes, but if they become kinked or bent from pressure, oil gets stuck and backs up instead of flowing out.

How to prevent irritation and breakouts from protective face masks


If you know you are going to be wearing your face masks for more than a few hours follow these steps to help prevent your skin from becoming irritated from your protective face mask. The most important thing to focus on when treating irritation is keeping the skin protected and well-hydrated.


Stay away from potential irritating products

Don’t use strong products like retinol, direct acids and some Vit C as these can further irritate the skin. Instead reach for products with ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, Cica,


Use a gentle cleanser

Prior to putting on your mask, use a gentle cleanser to remove oil and dead skin cells, which helps to prevent clogged pores and congestion.


Skip wearing make-up

As much as possible try not to wear makeup. The combination of humidity, friction and makeup is a sure way to a breakout. If you have to wear makeup make sure it’s non-comedogenic (non-pore blocking)


Protect your skin’s barrier

Applying a facial moisturizer before putting on your mask is an important step in ensuring a healthy skin barrier and therefore reducing the risk of irritation.


Apply SPF

While a face mask covers a large portion of your face, it is not designed to protect against UV from the sun, so it’s paramount to continue putting on sunscreen to your whole face (and other exposed areas of skin) before going outside


Prevent friction

Then apply a thick balm-like Uriage Xémose Universal Emollient Cream to the areas where the mask will touch at least 30 minutes before putting it on. This will create a protective barrier between the mask and your face to reduce friction.


To prevent irritated skin

When you finished wearing your mask, cleanse your face with a hydrating toner (I’m a big fan of Versed Hydrating Coconut Milk) and reapply the light moisturiser.

Doing this a few times a day will remove dirt and oil buildup while simultaneously soothing the skin.


Wear cloth masks

Invest in organic cotton or silk masks as these are more gentle on the skin compared to the disposable ones.



RELATED: How Pollution is damaging your skin and how to prevent it.

How to treat skin irritated from protective face masks?

If your skin has already become sore and irritated try these tips to help restore your skin’s barrier. Not sure if your skin’s barrier has been compromised, one common symptom of a damaged barrier is that products that usually don’t sting your skin suddenly do. If you’re experiencing this, your moisture barrier may be compromised.


Avoid Over-Exfoliation and Physical Scrubs

When the skin is irritated and sensitive, the last thing you want to do is piss it off even more. Be careful when it comes to using exfoliating acids. The purpose of these is to slough dead cells off the surface of your skin, which a face mask is already doing by manually rubbing back and forth. Adding in even more exfoliation could be too much. Your best staying away from face scrubs and sonic cleansing brushes when your skin is irritated. Physical exfoliation is already harder on the skin than chemical exfoliation, and in this case, adding even more friction into the equation by scrubbing your face certainly won’t do you any favours.

If your skin is dry and flaky you can exfoliate the dead skin with a more gentle acid such a PHA.


Less is more

When your skin is irritated, less is more. Pair back your routine to a gentle cleanser. Skip anything foaming or that could strip the skin and stick with cream or oil-based cleansers.

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Calm inflammation

Use products with ingredients like colloidal oatmeal—a natural anti-irritant—to help soothe redness and Cica, which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

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A damaged skin barrier needs restoration.  Help replace depleted skin lipids by applying oils that are chock-full of antioxidants, such as oils, which hydrate with linoleic acid.


Products with ceramides will help to protect the skin while Niacinamide is a great ingredient (and does so much more) that increase ceramide production and restores skin barrier function. 


SPF is critical to protect the skin’s barrier Sun exposure is one of the leading causes of a damaged skin barrier, and continued exposure to UVA and UVB rays impedes skin-barrier restoration. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, and be sure to select one that’s full of antioxidants for anti-ageing benefits in addition to protection. You can also work from the inside out: A diet rich in essential fatty acids or an omega-3 supplement can also help nourish and soothe the skin.





Wearing a protective face mask can be annoying but passing on COVID is much worse! Tell me has your skin become irritated from wearing a face mask?


Irish Beauty Blogger






Please note some links may be affiliate links but the post is not affiliate driven.

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28 Responses

  1. Thankfully it’s not mandatory to wear masks in Sydney at the moment. Some great tips. Thanks so much for the great read!

  2. Very interesting perspective! I never thought of this, but it totally makes sense if you are in public all day and have to wear a mask, especially if you have sensitive skin. Thanks so much for the tips!

  3. I am definitely going to send this article to my sister and mom! They’ve definitely been breaking out wearing their masks and you provide so many solutions. Thank you!

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