If you’re wearing a cloth face covering, it’s important to follow CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of droplets during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, make sure your mask covers both your nose and mouth, that you wash your hands after taking it off, and that you dispose of (or reuse) it properly.
In medical settings, where the possibility of transmitting an illness is usually greater, many health care workers follow another principle to make sure their masks are an effective barrier for droplets that could spread harmful pathogens: taking off their makeup before wearing a mask or skipping makeup altogether.
One of the reasons medical providers are taking this extra precaution is to conserve masks, which continue to be in short supply. Anne Liu, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, says once makeup gets on masks, it’s considered contaminated — which poses a problem when many health care facilities are finding ways to clean masks for reuse.
“A lot of places are collecting N95s for sterilization, but if there’s makeup on it, it’s considered soiled or contaminated, and we can’t sterilize them,” Liu tells Allure.
Makeup worn under a mask may also damage the fabric, making it a less effective barrier, according to Cassandra M. Pierre, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center.
“For surgical masks and N95 masks, and possibly for cloth masks, makeup does cause soiling of the masks and can lead to decreased air filtration,” she says. “You need to protect yourself from the potentially harmful pathogens in the air, and the debris from soiling will cause less efficiency in the mask or respirator’s ability to filtrate.”
Pierre says any makeup that touches the mask could impede the mask’s ability to filter out droplets, including lipstick, blush, foundation, and even tinted sunscreen. But it’s not just makeup: Men’s products like aftershave that cause visible soiling could also make a mask less efficient. So can skin-care products, like sunscreen or heavy, cream-based lotions that could cling to the mask.
Pierre recommends avoiding anything that could cause visible soiling to the mask’s fabric. If you apply sunscreen or a skin-care product like sunscreen or lotion, she recommends using thinner formulations or waiting to put on a mask until the product is totally absorbed into your skin. “If you can brush it off with your fingers, it can get onto the mask,” she says.
Theoretically, she says makeup could also hinder the effectiveness of a DIY cloth face covering or a bandana, but those are easier to wash at home. Just keep in mind that repeated washing of fabric masks could weaken the fibers over time, also having an impact on its effectiveness.
It’s not an official CDC guideline, but Pierre says as a general rule if you’re venturing out in public the safest bet is to skip putting anything on any part of your face that could soil the mask. But applying skin-care and makeup products above the nose is totally fine — and encouraged, if it boosts your mood. “Do up the eyes and do the mascara and eyebrows, but don’t have makeup around your mouth,” Liu says.
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