How to Fix Your Annoying Mask
Masks are key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Here's how to make yours more comfortable and effective.
To help contain COVID-19, one of the most important things you can do is wear a mask. Especially when paired with physical distancing, wearing masks is “the single best way, short of a lockdown, to slow the spread of the virus,” says William Schaffner, M.D., a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn.
But small annoyances can discourage people from wearing masks, Schaffner says, even when they know they should. “These may seem like minor problems, but if the new normal is going to be mask wearing for months, then they need attention,” he says.
The good news is that the things that may bug you about masks are mostly fixable. Even when they aren’t, there are steps you can take to minimize them. Here, we have some mask fixes for five common annoyances.
Glasses Getting Fogged Up
Why it happens: “The hot air from your breath escapes from the top of your mask and lands on the cooler surface of your lens,” says Marie Budev, D.O., a pulmonary medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. But this is generally only an issue if your mask doesn’t fit your face well, she adds. That’s when warm air can escape.
'Maskacne' Appearing on Your Nose or Chin
Why it happens: Sweat that builds up when you wear a mask for an extended period can cause bacteria to build up, triggering acne, says Debra Jaliman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. You can also get skin irritations and rashes.
How to fix it: Make sure your mask and your face are clean before you put it on, and wash your face at the end of the day or after wearing your mask for a long time. If you notice regular breakouts, you can apply a topical over-the-counter acne cream that contains benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria that causes acne, or ask your dermatologist about prescription products, Jaliman says. A light moisturizer can also help control rashes.
Difficulty Hearing and Communicating
Why it happens: Even people with perfect hearing can struggle to understand others who are wearing a mask. “It’s a physical barrier that blocks sound, and when a mask touches your lips, it can cause speech to be mumbled,” says Douglas Hildrew, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist at the Yale School of Medicine.
In addition, “human beings are emotional creatures, and even if we don’t lip read, we get a lot of information from visual cues, like whether a person is smiling, or their facial expression,” he says.
How to fix it: If you’re wearing a mask, make sure you’re speaking slowly and clearly—and ask other mask wearers to do the same.
“People assume that they just need to speak louder, but that’s not it—it’s making sure you speak as deliberately as possible, so that you can be understood,” Hildrew says. “I always joke to my patients that I don’t usually sound like Mr. Rogers in real life. But he had a way of choosing his words and breaking up his language so that it was clear, articulate, and deliberate that really worked.”
Seattle's Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center offers instructions for making a deaf-friendly mask, which has a clear window over the mouth to allow for lip-reading. (Some companies sell premade masks with a similar design.)
Nose or Ears Getting Irritated
Why it happens: The elastic ear loops that help keep your mask on can create friction that irritates the back of your ears. Another common hot spot is the bridge of your nose. “The skin there is very fragile,” Budev says. This can be particularly pronounced in dark skin, since early warning signs of a pressure ulcer or friction burn may not be as visible and the problem is only discovered when it gets worse, says Onyema Ogbuagu, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.
How to fix it: Try an over-the-counter wound dressing, like DuoDERM, on areas where your mask rubs against your skin, which can reduce friction and prevent your skin from breaking down.
Another option is to apply a thick, petroleum-based ointment like Vaseline to the bridge of your nose and back of your ears to prevent redness and chafing, Ogbuagu says. Or Budev recommends buying moleskin from a drugstore and applying that to the bridge of your nose.
If it’s your ears that are aching, look for a mask that has ties or elastic loops you put around your neck and head, not one that loops behind your ears. Or, on one with ear loops, attach the loops to buttons sewn onto the side of a headband, rather than hooking them behind your ears.
Mask Slipping Down Constantly
Why it happens: “People come with faces of all shapes and sizes, and some men also have hair on their face, which also makes getting a good fit more difficult,” Schaffner says.
How to fix it: A mask that is slipping is also one you will be tempted to readjust frequently. But once you are out and about, it’s important not to touch your mask and risk contaminating it or your hands. Instead, before going out, make sure your mask fits you correctly.
“Put it on and cup your hands around the edges, then pull the mask first up towards your cheeks, then down towards your chin,” Schaffner says. Of course, make sure both the mask and your hands are clean before doing this.
The mask should feel a little harder to breathe in, and you should notice it moving in and out as you breathe. If it doesn’t, you need to tighten it. Adjust the ear loops (and tie a knot) so the mask fits snugly against your face and does not gap at the sides or top.