These days, many gyms require you to wear a face mask in an effort to curb the transmission of Covid-19. While this may help protect you (and others) from getting sick, working out in a mask can do a number on your skin.
Face masks trap sweat, excess oil, and bacteria against your skin, creating the perfect conditions for pimples to form, explains Geeta Yadav, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Toronto.
“In addition to acne, the skin can become inflamed with rosacea,” adds Yadav. “It can also be irritated from the moisture retained behind a mask, especially in the areas around the mouth — sometimes even encouraging a yeast infection in the corners of the mouth.
Oof. So, what can you do? We consulted top skincare experts for their best advice for keeping skin clear while exercising in a mask.
Pre-workout skincare when working out in a mask
Preventing breakouts and irritation starts before you slip on a mask and step foot in the gym.
Choose the right mask.
First things first. Picking the best mask to wear at the gym can help keep your skin in the clear. Amber Rose Johnson, esthetician and founder of Facial Lounge in Corona del Mar, California, notes that many disposable masks are treated with chemicals that can not only irritate your skin but your lungs as well.
She recommends selecting a reusable face wash and using a freshly cleaned one any time you workout. “There are some companies that are making antimicrobial fabrics out of silver and copper that keep bacteria off the skin,” says Johnson.
Yadav says this face mask from Under Armour is structured in such a way that it keeps the mask further away from your nose and mouth. It also uses an antimicrobial fabric that feels cool against our skin. It has built-in UPF 50+ sun protection to boot.
Natalie Aguilar, celebrity esthetician and dermatological nurse, recommends purchasing a few silk-lined fabric masks. Silk is a very gentle material on the skin. “My absolute favorite masks to wear for workouts are by Slip,” says Aguilar. “These masks are pure silk and truly minimize friction. Plus I find them to not retain as much heat as other masks.”
As for which materials to stay away from? “I would avoid using irritating synthetic materials such as nylon, denim, polyester, and rayon,” says Aguilar. “They don’t breathe well and have been noted to cause dermatitis.”
Make sure your mask is clean.
“When working out, start with a new mask and swap in another new one after hitting the showers,” recommends Yadav.
Johnson suggests cleaning your mask in hot water to kill germs, with a fragrance-free detergent. Synthetic fragrances and scents can irritate your skin, she explains. Method is one brand that makes fragrance- and dye-free laundry detergent that’s safe for sensitive skin.
If you don’t have time to completely wash your mask before working out, Johnson shares this hack. Spritz your mask with hydrogen peroxide and let it air dry before hitting the gym.
Wash your face.
“It’s ideal to wash your face before you work out,” says Johnson. She likes the Facial Lounge’s Pore Clarifying Cleanser because it’s formulated with tea tree oil, which helps keep bacteria off the skin.
Use a treatment to disinfect your skin.
After cleansing but before putting on your mask, consider applying a treatment to calm and reduce inflammation that may occur while exercising. Yadav likes twenty/twenty beauty Easy on the Eyes Daily Hygiene Facial Spray. “It uses hypochlorous acid — a naturally occurring molecule produced by the immune system —to disinfect your skin,” she says.
Skip the makeup and other skincare products.
It’s best to steer clear of makeup or any other skincare products before working out in a mask because you want to allow your skin to breathe, says Yadav. The only caveat? If you’re exercising outside, you should apply sunscreen, she says.
“You should avoid using stimulating products such as rejuvenating serums, spot treatments, and active serums,” adds Aguilar. “Try to keep skincare gentle and simple.”
Post-workout skincare for working out in a mask
Once you’re done with your workout, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your skin stays happy.
Wash your face (again).
“I strongly recommend that my clients cleanse with cool water [after a workout] to help cool the face and reduce any heat or inflammation,” says Aguilar. Johnson likes Facial Lounger’s Hydrating Cleanser, which offers a deep clean but is packed with hydrating ingredients. Yadav says you may want to do a double-cleanse for added insurance.
If you’re on the go and don’t have time for a full cleanse, Yadav suggests using a cleansing wipe to immediately remove any grime and germs. Her favorite is Yes To Cucumbers Calming Facial Wipes.
Change your mask.
Don’t put the same mask you wore during your workout back on after you cleanse your face — that will just reintroduce dirt and germs onto your skin. That’s why Yadav recommends carrying a few face masks with you so you always have a fresh one at the ready.
Follow up with the rest of your skincare routine.
“Active serums and spot treatments can safely be used [after a workout], followed with moisturizer and SPF,” says Aguilar. If you experience breakouts due to wearing a mask during exercise, try a purifying or probiotic face sheet or mask to help restore your skin’s pH and minimize congestion, she adds. Korres Greek Yoghurt Probiotic Superdose Face Mask is great for balancing out skin.
When it comes to choosing a moisturizer to finish up your post-workout skincare routine, Yadav says to keep it simple. “A gentle formula like CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30 won’t irritate skin that has been sensitized by the mask and will also help restore moisture that may have been stripped away due to mask wear,” she says.