If the summer brought home one everyday annoyance in the age of Covid, it’s how sticky it gets under a face mask. I’d been wearing a sturdy triple-layered one that resembled a bra cup, which was fine until the mercury hit 30C and my face started to melt. I could almost feel my pores clogging and so I started scouting around for cooler options. I talked to Elizabeth Arden’s resident dermatologist Dr Dendy Engelman who is based in Manhattan, who has the pandemic-specific honour of being the doctor who coined the term ‘ maskne ’ (the spots caused by mask-wearing) back in May. At the time, PPE-compliant New Yorkers were already sweltering beneath their face coverings and the eruptions she noticed in their skin, and her own were startling. “I had never broken out in 43 years, but when it’s 98C outside and it’s hot and humid you start to notice changes on the skin,” she says.
You might think that the chin and mouth would be where maskne spots erupt, but what Dr Dendy has been seeing these past months among her PPE-wearing medical colleagues, clients as well as on herself is ‘acne mechanica’. This is a breakout caused by friction where the masks chafe on the cheeks and nose. “The friction makes a wound," she explains, "and when the skin starts to heal it can overgrow the pore and create the start of an acne lesion,” she explains.
So what to do? Dendy always carries a stick of face balm to reapply (a kind of facial Chapstick that’s a barrier against chafing) and at the end of the day uses a salicylic acid toner to unclog the pores and to prevent the spot-causing pore ‘overgrowth’.
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The other major change she advocates is investing in a reusable silk face mask to minimise friction. “You want something that glides across the skin,” she says. Silk is also gentle on sensitive skin, washable at 30C as well as light, helping to avoid those pressure marks that some masks can leave. She also rates Tencel (aka lyocell or modal which has soft silk-like fibres) as an equally gentle alternative.
Face masks need to have at least two layers to be effective against pollution particles, which is something to consider when choosing a mask. Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina recently t ested 14 different face coverings for which were most effective in stopping the transmission of respiratory droplets when people were speaking and found that three-layered cotton masks which can be made at home came out second to top, after the N95 mask used by medical professionals in the US, although they did not test silk. Neck fleeces and bandanas provided very little protection at all, they found.
Which silk face mask should you buy? Here are the reusable washable silk face coverings to be seen in.
Please note none of the below offers medical-grade protection against viruses.
When the cult clothing brand loved by Sienna Miller, Margot Robbie and Alexa Chung launched its silk face masks back in May, with 100 per cent of the proceeds donated to the World Health Organisation, they sold out in 10 minutes. For the second release they added cotton options too and they disappeared in six minutes flat. Every Friday at 4 pm BST there’s a new drop with a proportion of profits going to Covid-aid charities. Fastest finger first! They are double-layered and cover a wide area without pressure and come with a useful silk drawstring bag to keep it clean in your handbag. And they’re so pretty!
This reversible double layer mask gives you two bites at the mask cherry. Wash at 30C then reverse.
Two layers of mulberry silk are filled with high density ‘raw habotai silk’ in this unisex mask that comes in several stylish neutral colours. Gingerlily are silk specialists whose silk sheets and pillowcases are the stuff of dreams – literally.
The makers of our favourite silk eye masks have come up with a reusable face mask that has a layer of breathable cotton between two silk layers, making it thick yet soft, there’s a removable nose wire (handy for washing) and adjustable ear straps. Available in pink, black and leopard.
Much cheaper than a coveted floaty Rixo maxi, these 70 per cent recycled silk, 30 per cent cotton masks with ear ties come in oodles of gorgeous fabrics and are pleated to fit around nose and chin
This double-layered silk face mask from Scandinavian-inspired fashion brand comes with an internal pocket that you can add your own filter for extra security, elastic straps, cotton lining and a matching silk drawstring bag. A percentage of proceeds go NHS charities.
Holistic Silk has included two active carbon inserts to add between the layers of this pretty printed silk mask with elasticated ear straps which are proven to be effective in filtering air pollutants and pollen. Each one lasts 30 days.
Two layers of silk, a nose wire, a chin flap and bundles of colour options make up these more budget-friendly face masks from Amazon, which have elasticated ear loops and a high thread count (600) making them relatively dense.
In four colours, this Mulberry silk mask is stretchy and has four layers of fabric and comes in a pack of two. It’s more structured than some of our other choices.
There are 26 colours to choose from (even Tartan) in this good value selection of double-layered masks with elasticated straps. One reviewer says, “Finally a mask I can wear without much discomfort (I'm asthmatic). Lightweight and doesn't get too hot underneath, and a beautiful colour to boot."
MORE GLOSS: smudge-proof lipsticks to wear under your face mask