Mask Hygiene

If 2020 had a signature wardrobe item, it would be the face mask. Like it or not, face masks have become a staple in many of our wardrobes. Currently, 34 states plus Washington, D.C., have some form of mask mandate, and some cities and local governments have enacted their own mandates.

While the guidelines around when to wear masks have been made clear, what's less clear is how to care for our mask – and ourselves – beneath our mask. What is proper mask hygiene, after all? How often should we be cleaning our masks? Can you reuse a disposable face mask? It's quite possible that some of us aren't as hygienic as we'd expect.

To learn about people's mask hygiene habits, we surveyed over 1,000 mask owners regarding their usage and cleaning procedures. We asked them how often they wear masks and how they care for their masks and their skin under their mask. We then compared their practices to the recommended guidelines to see just how hygienic we all are. Keep reading to see what we learned.

The Face Mask Fashion Accessory

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Mask wearing is on the rise in America, with more and more adults saying they regularly wear a mask in stores and other businesses. The face mask owners we surveyed reported wearing their mask for 2.9 hours a day on average. With so much time spent behind a mask, it's no surprise face masks have become the "it" accessory of 2020.

Face masks have evolved from a health practice to a fashion statement, with even the high fashion industry joining the face mask fashion trend. Today, you can find masks for every taste, from those with Disney designs to skeletal grins composed of cotton to high-end Italian fabrics – some are even replete with sequins.

These designer face masks may come at a higher price. Some luxury options are retailing for over $100. Most Americans are opting for something a little more budget-friendly, though. According to our research, face mask owners spent $27.50, on average, on face masks in 2020. Women spent an average of $8 more on masks than men, which may suggest women are more inclined to turn their face mask into an accessory.

The average mask owner has 6.4 masks, which begs a question: Do we own multiple masks so we can coordinate our mask to our outfit or for hygiene reasons?

Face Mask Hygiene – or Lack Thereof

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Face masks are intended to help you stay healthy, but misusing a mask could put you in as much danger as not using one at all, according to experts. If masks are not changed or cleaned frequently, they can become their own source of contamination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines on how to properly remove and wash face masks. Among these guidelines is a call to wash your hands after touching a face mask, but over one-third of mask wearers aren't heeding that warning. Mask owners are more likely to wash their hands before taking a face mask off (43.75) than before putting one on (35%).

Over two-thirds of mask owners wash their face after wearing a face mask at least some of the time. Nearly 33% reported washing their face every time after they wear a mask – a practice that could be an attempt to reduce the impact of "maskne."

Almost 25% of mask owners admit to having shared a face mask, despite health expert advice against sharing face masks.

The Best Type of Face Mask?

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The question then becomes this: Are disposable masks the answer to our mask hygiene challenges? If you throw your mask away after every use, there's no need to wash it, after all. Despite this, among surveyed mask owners, reusable masks were still the clear favorite. Almost two-thirds of mask wearers said they primarily opt for reusable masks, with millennials being the most likely to choose reusable masks over disposable ones.

Experts would approve of this strategy, as reusable masks provide better protective barriers than disposable masks. Reusable masks are also more environmentally friendly. Since the promotion of mask wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the production of disposable masks has skyrocketed from $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion this year. The UN estimates around 75% of used masks will end up in landfills or the ocean.

Reuse is an easy solution to this pollution dilemma, and, according to our research, it's not only reusable mask wearers who are jumping on the reuse wagon. Over 40% of disposable mask wearers admitted that they've tried to wash their disposable mask, and over 44% said they wear a disposable mask multiple times before throwing it away.

Washing a disposable mask is not recommended, as it can damage the fibers. If you do reuse a disposable mask, the best strategy is to isolate it for a week by keeping it in a breathable container like a paper bag.

Washing a reusable mask is a bit more straightforward: Simply throw it in a washing machine with the other laundry. This is what the majority of reusable mask wearers do, although about 42% said they wash their masks by hand. Some of them may opt for hand-washing to protect their mask's embellishments.

Experts recommend washing your face mask after every use, but mask owners aren't quite so diligent. The longest mask wearers reported going, on average, without washing their reusable face mask was nine days. Almost 11% of reusable mask wearers admitted to having gone over two weeks without washing their mask.

The Unfortunate Rise of Maskne

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Washing your face mask not only removes external pollutants; it can also help prevent mask-related acne, unaffectionately dubbed "maskne." Around 37% of mask wearers said they've experienced a breakout from wearing a mask.

The tighter fitting a mask is and the longer it's worn, the more likely someone is to experience this unfortunate side effect. Mask wearers who experienced maskne reported wearing their masks for an hour longer, on average, than those who didn't experience any breakouts.

Maskne has become such a problem that the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has published advice on how to combat it. Among their recommended strategies are washing masks after every use, washing and moisturizing your face and lips, avoiding makeup, limiting the use of products known to cause skin irritation, using a mask made from more breathable fabric, and taking your mask off for 15 minutes every four hours.

The most common maskne strategy among mask wearers was washing their face after removing their mask. Over half of mask wearers also reported washing their face before putting a mask on and trying masks made of more breathable fabric. Far less common was trying ointments or salves to create a barrier between their mask and skin, which is one of the AAD's first recommendations. Experts suggest using a moisturizer with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or dimethicone.

Mask wearers also indicated that they've tried using new skin care products to combat their maskne, which the AAD does not recommend. Since wearing a mask can make your skin more sensitive, this is not the time to be trying new products, according to dermatologists.

The Art and Science of Proper Face Mask Care

Wearing a face mask has become as much an art as a science. Face masks are "the" accessory for 2020 and are increasingly becoming as much a fashion statement as they are a health measure. Regardless, proper mask hygiene is important to staying safe – and maskne-free. Improper mask hygiene could put you at greater risk than not wearing a mask at all.

While Americans are, by and large, following guidance to wear masks in enclosed areas, our findings suggest we still have some work to do in improving our mask hygiene – especially if we want to stop the spread of maskne.

The CDC tells us to wash our hands before and after touching our masks and to wash or dispose of masks after each use. To help prevent the dreaded maskne, the AAD also recommends washing your face after every wearing. You can also try using a moisturizer as a barrier between your skin and the mask to prevent irritation. Take small measures such as these and you can protect your health and your sense of style.

About Signs.com

Face masks are here to stay, and while health comes first, making a fashion statement with your face mask can make wearing them more fun. At Signs.com, we offer custom face masks with antimicrobial treated and breathable fabrics in an assortment of sizes and colors. You can get started on designing your own at https://www.signs.com/face-masks/ today.

Methodology

We surveyed 1,009 people about face mask hygiene. People had to report owning at least one face mask to qualify for the survey.

Respondents were 47.6% women and 52.2% men. One respondent identified as nonbinary, and one respondents chose not to disclose their gender. The average age of respondents was 39.4 with a standard deviation of 12.7.

All averages were calculated to exclude outliers. This was done by finding the initial average and standard deviation of the data. The standard deviation was then multiplied by three and added to the initial average. Any data point above that sum was excluded from the final average calculation.

When reporting what methods they had tried to combat mask-related acne breakouts, respondents were instructed to select all answer options that applied to them. Therefore, percentages won't add to 100.

Limitations

The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

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