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14 Jul 2020

Five tips for avoiding common face mask problems

Find out how to make wearing a face covering more comfortable and get into good habits

As face coverings become an increasing part of our daily lives, you may be encountering some of the pitfalls of wearing one regularly.

Face coverings are increasingly considered a useful additional measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus, in situations where social distancing isn't possible.

As such, they are becoming mandatory in shops and on public transport across much of the the UK.

But they can take a bit of getting used to. It might not be long after you dutifully don your face mask that your face starts sweating, your glasses fog up and you're itching behind the ears.

We've rounded up some top tips to stay comfortable and make sure you're wearing your mask correctly.

1. Choose the right mask materials

Although it might be tempting on a stuffy train or in a crowded shop to pull your face mask under your chin for some respite, this completely defeats the purpose of wearing one in the first place. This goes for having your nose poking out the top, too.

There's a bit of a trade-off between how breathable a mask is and how well it filters air particles, but ultimately you should still be able to breathe comfortably when wearing your mask, otherwise you'll swiftly tire of it.

You also need a fabric that is soft enough to sit against your skin without irritation or discomfort.

Make sure the inner layer of your mask is something gentle on the skin and absorbs moisture, such as cotton. A moisture-wicking outer layer on the mask might help with the sweat factor on hot summer days, too.

Find out more in our mask buying guide.

2. Make sure your ear loops are comfortable

The design of the ear loops is important. Simple elastic bands might rub behind the ears and cause discomfort, so look out for softer materials such as cotton or silk.

If the ear loops aren't adjustable, they might either slip off or be too tight. Ones you can tie up, or adjust with a toggle, may be more comfortable.

Some people prefer to wear a mask that ties up behind the head, rather than hooking over the ears.

As long as you can put it on and remove it without touching the front, opt for whatever feels more comfortable for you.

3. Take care of your skin

Dr Sweta Rai, a consultant dermatologist and dermatological surgeon at King's College Hospital, warns 'there are skin problems that can arise as a result of the humid, moist air that is being recirculated in the micro-environment caused by a mask'.

She recommends that people make sure they cleanse their skin properly using a gentle cleanser and moisturiser during the day, and use a night cream in the evening to protect the skin so that any friction from a mask or face covering is rubbing up against a well moisturised and healthy skin barrier, and is less likely to cause irritation.

While it may be more difficult on long journeys, it's important when you can to (safely) remove your mask and allow your skin to breathe and to prevent sweat sebum secretion and retention behind the mask.

Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before donning or removing your mask and to store it in a bag until you can wash it after use.

If you have sensitive skin, you might want to avoid wearing make-up while you're out as this can contribute to clogged pores and breakouts.

Watch our video below for more on how to look after your skin while using a face covering.

4. Change your face covering regularly

Change your mask as soon as it gets damp - this might be more often as the weather warms up again.

A moist mask won't filter virus particles or droplets, can be less breathable and it will create more of an uncomfortable humid environment on your face, which no one wants.

If you're going to be out and about, or travelling for a longer period of time, bring a backup mask with you.

You should wash a cloth mask after each use. It's worth having several, so that you always have a spare and don't have to worry about washing them too frequently.

5. Combat foggy glasses

Anyone who wears glasses will swiftly realise that wearing a mask can be a one-way ticket to steamy lenses.

The best prevention is a well-fitting mask with a wire nose bridge that fits snugly to your face and stops air escaping upwards.

A tip doing the rounds at The Royal College of Surgeons is to wash your glasses in soapy water, covering the whole lens and either letting them air-dry or gently drying them off with a microfibre cloth.

This leaves a thin surfactant layer on the lens, which should help to prevent the lens from fogging up.

Note that it doesn't work on all lens types and can damage some lens coatings - so check first!

You can also try folding a tissue and placing it across the bridge of your nose inside the mask to absorb the air coming up.