Is it just me, or have you noticed that wearing a mask outdoors in the cold weather is causing your face and lips to be dry or chapped?
While there are lots of things to love about winter, wearing a mask when you’re out and about and getting chapped skin and lips aren’t among them. Dry, cracked, peeling painful facial skin lips hurt. Worse, it means that your skin barrier is compromised. Which means more irritation and dryness.
The evidence is overwhelming that masks are vital in the fight against Covid, so not wearing one when you’re out and about isn’t an option that’s worth it. There are things you can do to make it better.
Why masks are hard on your skin
The masks trap the moisture from your breath and hold it up against your skin. This causes problems like the dreaded maskne and flare ups of rosacea and dermatitis. And, oddly, it can also make your skin dry and irritated.
Wearing a mask can be drying anyway and when you add in the moisture of your breath, it’s has the same effect of constantly licking your lips. Only on your whole masked face.
Causes of chapped skin and lips:
- Dry environment (humidity drops just about everywhere in the winter due to cooler air)
- Synthetic mask materials that don’t breathe well
- Loose fitting masks that chafe as they move around (they also aren’t protecting you as well)
- Sun – sunburned lips are the worst
- Wind-also drying
- Licking your lips
- Certain medications that have dehydration as a side effect like antihistamines, diuretics, chemotherapy drugs
- Certain ingredients in lip balms, think menthols and camphor
- Over scrubbing or using water that's too hot to wash your face
How to keep your mask from being so hard on your face
- Be gentle. Wash your face twice a day to remove oils, dirt, and gunk. Use a gentle cleanser and tepid water. Don’t scrub or rub. This will only irritate your skin barrier more. Gently use a washcloth (this probably as much exfoliation as you need if your skin is irritated) and pat dry with a clean towel.
- Moisturize. Apply a serum that contains hyaluronic acid to help restore moisture and follow up with a cream type moisturizer.
If you’re going out, apply moisturizer before and after wearing your mask. This can help prevent a lot of problems, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin.
If your face gets dry, chapped or irritated, stay away from your retinol or glycolic serums until it’s better.
Moisturize right before bed. You may want to add in a facial oil too. The facial oil will help seal moisture into your skin’s outer layers and give them a chance to heal. The results can be pretty miraculous
- Wear your sun screen.
- If you have red, irritated areas (like on or under your chin, behind, your ears, or across the bridge of your nose) you can use a layer of unscented zinc oxide diaper cream where the mask is rubbing. It’s super soothing and anti-inflammatory. A thin layer will do.
- Remember to wash your mask regularly and double rinse to remove any detergent residue that might further irritate your skin.
The skin on your lips is different
You’ve probably noticed your lips are more prone to chapping than other areas of your face. The natural oils secreted by your skin protect it from dryness and damage. Not so on your lips, they have no oil glands.
Plus, your lips have thinner skin.
And because they’re always under your mask or nearly always exposed to the sun, wind, and cold, they get more exposure. All these factors add up to make your lips more likely to become dehydrated and start to peel or crack.
The sad irony is that once this happens, the temptation to pick at or lick your lips make the situation even worse.
As with most things in life, prevention is way better than cure
Here’s how to prevent chapped lips:
Protect- a good lip balm seals in moisture. It forms a protective layer to keep sun, wind, snow, heat and cold from sucking the moisture out of your lips.
PRO TIP: It’s a really good idea to apply lip balm before bed. Just like youadd a good face cream or oil to seal in moisture while your skin repairs itself, your nightly lip balm will do the same for your lips.
But, not all lip balms are created equal. Some feel good going on but actually are more drying. Let’s avoid those.
I’m not a fan of petroleum products on my lips, and chemical sunscreens are also really drying.
Menthol or mint lip balms are the old stand by and still popular. The problem is that menthol, camphor, and phenols are actually quite drying. So they feel good going on, but end up making your lips worse.
But…chapped, sun burned or damaged lips are bad. If your lips are already a bit damaged (dry or chapped), sun exposure can trigger fever blisters. So, you definitely want to use a lip balm with SPF if you’re going to be outside.
The good news is that zinc oxide sunscreens protect your lips from sun damage and other environmental insults. And it helps reduce inflammation and heal the skin.
Other help to keep your face healthy
Hydrate yourself from the inside- Drink plenty of water. This is sometimes hard to do when it’s cold out. You don’t feel as thirsty. Do it anyway. Your skin and lips are the first place dehydration shows up. If you’re flying or traveling to high elevation, this is even worse. Drink more water. Your skin will thank you.
Hydrate from the outside- in addition to applying products to your skin, using a humidifier when you’re sleep can have huge benefits to your ski and lips. Heat and colder temps mean that the air in your house is drier in the winter. Lower humidity means more water loss from your skin. A humidifier will help offset this.
How to remedy those hurting smackers
If you’re active outdoors in the winter (and we hope you are), chances are you’re going to have chapped lips at some point. Here’s how to get rid of them pronto:
Don’t lick them! This is the most natural reaction to dry lips-deliver some moisture straight from your tongue. And it does bring relief. Until the saliva dries and pulls even more moisture out of your lips.
Drink more water.
Keep putting the lip balm on.
Try a gentle sugar scrub on your lips
You can make one at home in a jiffy. Here's a simple one:
Mix one teaspoon of honey with two teaspoons of sugar
Massage the mixture into your lips and leave for 10 minutes or so
Wash off with warm water
Sugar is a natural exfoliant. Honey is a natural moisturizer and anti-bacterial.
The operative word here is gentle. It may be tempting to have a nice hard scrub to remove dry and peeling skin but this will only damage your lips more. Gentle scrub then moisturize and seal with lip balm.
Or, even easier and more gentle:
Soak a bag of green tea in warm water and gently rub it over the lips to soften and remove excess dry skin.
The green tea will help reduce inflammation and the natural antioxidants and mineral will help soothe and heal your lips.
Don’t overdo exfoliation. This is a once or at most twice a week thing. Otherwise, you’ll end up making your lips even drier.
If your face or lips are chapped, be sure to keep protecting them:
- Moisturizer morning and night and before and after mask use.
- lip balm (SPF if you’re going to be outdoors)
- hydrate by drinking lots of water
- use a humidifier
- use a scarf or neck gaiter help protect your face and lips from wind and cold. You can putit right over your mask (especially good if it’s windy)
They should be much better in a day or two.
When it might be more than simple chapping
If your chapped face or lips simply won’t heal or are very inflamed, you should see a doctor, preferably a dermatologist. An area on the lips, one lip, or both, that seems constantly chapped or dry and flaky should also be checked out.
Winter can be fun, get outside and enjoy it! Wear your mask when you’re near other people and your lips and face don’t need to suffer. Follow these tips to keep your skin happy underneath.