01 Sep Yes, You Need to Wear Sunscreen Under Your Mask
Best practices for face masks seem to always be changing, but there’s one rule that’s been steadfast from the beginning: you do still need to wear sunscreen under your mask. At Spectrum Dermatology, many clients have been requesting appointments to address “maskne” (acne caused by masks) but not nearly as many have been interested in the rules about sunscreen and face masks. If wearing long sleeves and pants are part of protecting your skin from UV rays, why don’t masks work the same way?
The reality is that masks do work similarly to long sleeves and pants. Clothing layers can help reduce skin’s exposure to UV rays but (usually) doesn’t block it entirely. It’s best to wear sunscreen under long sleeves and pants if you plan to be out in the sun for extended periods of time.
Why People are Foregoing Sunscreen Right Now
Since COVID-19 started, many people have stopped wearing makeup since half of their face doesn’t show when wearing a mask. Plus, a lot of people are no longer out and about exposing themselves to UV rays to the degree they were prior to the pandemic. It can be beneficial to give your face a break from makeup, but don’t forget that you still need sunscreen. Most cloth face masks equal an SPF of about 7—which is well below what your skin requires for good protection.
Of course, masks come in all materials and thicknesses. However, especially in the summer, most people are seeking out the most breathable and lightest face masks. This is perfectly fine when it comes to protecting yourself from COVID but does not work to protect your skin from UV damage.
Understanding Your Face Mask Habits
Lightness of the fabric is just one factor. People also tend to wear masks loosely to make it more breathable. There’s also a tendency to pull down face masks as soon as nobody is around you or when you get into the car. All of these habits make the UV protection worse or even completely ineffective. Some of the favorite fabrics for masks in the summer are linen and cotton, with cotton being the least likely of any fabric to cause maskne. Neither are particularly good at blocking UV rays.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that every person wear at least SPF 30 on a daily basis and reapply liberally every 75 minutes. Few masks are going to offer that kind of protection, and even if they do they still only cover a portion of your face. It’s unlikely that a lot of people are applying quality sunscreen exclusively to the top half of their face and carefully avoiding the lower half. If you’re going to apply sunscreen to part of your face (which you should), it’s just as easy to apply it to the entire face.
What About Thicker Masks?
A three-ply mask, the KN95 mask, or masks made of polyester (or any tighter weave) will probably offer a higher SPF than 7, but not the minimum recommended level of 30. Also bear in mind that if any fabric gets wet either from water or sweat, its ability to protect you from UV rays diminishes. Ultimately, you just cannot depend on a mask to be your primary defense against the sun.
Surprisingly, the color of the face mask also makes a difference. Lighter masks, white or pastel, tend to offer less protection than a black mask. This is disappointing to those who allow their light masks to double as bandanas on afternoon runs since you’re not protecting your face or your neck from UV damage.
Protect Your Skin
The good news is that the only thing you have to do to keep your skin safe is wear sunscreen beneath the mask. A dermatologist can recommend a lightweight sunscreen that’s oil-free to help prevent maskne. If you’ll be spending a lot of time outside, you can also “upgrade” your face mask to one made with a UPF fabric (but still wear sunscreen beneath it). Ultraviolet protection factor fabrics have a dense weave designed specifically to block UV rays.
Remember that skin cancer is 100% preventable and easy to treat when it’s caught early. Keep protecting yourself and your skin by doubling up with both a mask and sunscreen every day. Call Spectrum Dermatology at (480) 948-8400 for even more protection from skin cancer and schedule your mole check today.