How Essential Workers Are Taking Care of Their Skin

If wearing face masks all day is causing you to break out, a nightly cosmetic face mask could fix you right up.


The people working on the front lines of this pandemic face a wide and horrifying array of frustrations and struggles on a daily basis. And while we’re not going to suggest that breakouts or other skin issues are anywhere near the top of that list, they can still be annoying and upsetting, and as such, will need dealing with at some point — an endeavor made especially challenging by a significant increase in handwashing and showers, as well as a required, constant wearing of face masks.

As essential hardware store employee Ashley (a pseudonym) explains, “The masks rub in the makeup I wear, so I’ve been getting more pimples on my cheeks, where I never normally got them.” Makeup aside, she also hypothesizes that the blemishes could simply be a result of sweat and dead skin building up in her masks over the course of each and every workday. Likewise, Ashely says her hands in particular have become especially dry lately, a result of the incessant sanitizing she engages in between helping customers. 

But since the beginning of quarantine, Ashley and other essential workers have found a few ways to negate the negative effects of their new hygiene habits to help their skin stay healthy and comfortable all the while.

The first and simplest trick Ashley mentions is simply increasing her hand moisturizing frequency to after (almost) every wash. We were recently recommended this same tactic by dermatologist Anthony Rossi, who also provided a bit of advice for those who seem to deal with arid hands no matter how often they moisturize: “If you’re suffering from very dry hands, an easy hack is just to put petroleum jelly on your hands and cover them with socks or cotton gloves at night.” It may feel weird, but you want nice hands, right?

As for dealing with any unsightly results of wearing a gunked-up mask all day, Ashley tells me another essential retail store worker, who works the beauty aisle in her shop, suggested two pieces of advice: Wash your mask often, and employ cosmetic face masks — namely, the clay ones.

Per that first piece of advice, if you have a cloth face mask, you should really be washing it every single day. While running the laundry that frequently is both absurd and a huge waste of water and power, you can simply soak it in the sink with a little detergent, then let it drip dry overnight. Or if your employer provides you with N95 respirators, Kirsten Koehler, an associate professor of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, recently told USA Today that you can reuse them by allowing the mask to disinfect itself in a breathable paper bag for one week. That means you need seven in total — one for each day of the week — so you can have a clean, disinfected mask every morning. Though, if you do a lot of sweating, your face may do better if you simply use a brand new mask each day.

Whatever your face mask situation, occasionally using a cosmetic clay mask can certainly help clear your skin up. As Rossi explained to us a while back, “They’re either made out of clay or salicylic acid, and those really help dry out oily skin. Salicylic acid penetrates pores really well, because it’s lipophilic, which means it’s fat-soluble.” As a result, using a clay mask a couple times a week can help reduce any gunky buildup caused by wearing a safety mask every day.

If all else fails, hey, you can rest easy knowing that no one can see those pimples under your mask anyway.