As anyone who’s spent time under a mask recently can tell you, the practice isn’t often enjoyable. And in the hot weather, face masks could become particularly sweaty and uncomfortable.
“Philadelphia summers are tough,” said Nicole Jochym, a third-year medical student at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University who works with the Sew Face Masks Philadelphia organization.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated, the City of Philadelphia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both recommend wearing masks indoors in many cases, because of rising cases connected to the delta variant of COVID-19.
But even if you don’t have to wear them outside, warm weather can make mask wearing uncomfortable. Luckily there are some strategies to make it more bearable.
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Here is what you need to know:
Choose your material
Wearing a mask can be hot and make breathing feel more difficult. With that in mind, make sure your mask is reasonably breathable to help both increase comfort and decrease the impulse to touch the mask to adjust it.
“You want a breathable fabric,” Jochym said. Her recommendation: Using a mask that is made from 100% cotton. According to the CDC, good options include woven cotton sheets and T-shirt fabric.
While cotton isn’t moisture-wicking, she said, it’s more breathable than synthetic fabrics like polyester, and it could make masks more comfortable in the heat. Avoid filters, Jochym adds, because they are often made from synthetic materials, and can make masks hotter and harder to breathe through.
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Check the fit
Your mask should be somewhat snug on your face, but you don’t want it to be so tight that it’s uncomfortable or difficult to breathe through. To solve that issue, said Carrie L. Kovarik, an associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, try out different masks, or use one that has adjustable ties.
“A tie mask probably would be better. Elastic straps can be irritating behind the ear," she said. “Don’t put it on so tight that you can’t breathe.”
Jochym seconds that, saying that Sew Face Masks Philadelphia encourages using ties because they are adjustable. “Every face shape is different,” she adds; ties have the potential for a better, more comfortable fit.
Cloth masks, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has noted, should not be worn when they become damp or wet, which could cause issues in the summer, when we’re all sweating more heavily. Because cotton masks will absorb sweat when you wear them, Jochym said, it is important to have several clean ones available to use.
“In Philadelphia’s hot and humid summers, it could be difficult to get around with just one,” she said. “You have to be able to switch it out as it gets damp on the inside.”
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Limit how long you wear one
If hot weather makes wearing a mask uncomfortable, try to limit the amount of time you need to wear one.
“Think about when wearing a mask is necessary, and not wearing one when it is not needed,” Kovarik said. And do not wear your mask off your nose.
Take care of your skin
Hot summer weather can cause moisture to build up under a mask, which can irritate your skin (similar to a diaper rash) Kovarik said. That problem, however, may be less common for people wearing cloth masks compared to health-care workers wearing less-breathable surgical or N95 masks.
“In hot weather, you will have a lot of moisture under there, and the skin can break down a little more,” she said. “Moisture from breath or heat builds up, and you can get a rash.”
If your skin does become irritated due to using a mask, Kovarik recommends using a noncomedogenic (non-pore-blocking) moisturizer — and avoid products like petroleum jelly. Apply your preferred salve after wearing a mask to help repair skin.
Additionally, Kovarik recommends not wearing makeup under a mask, as it could further clog your pores.