How to Fix Those Weird Tan Lines Caused by Face Masks

Marci Robin

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we approach virtually every aspect of our lives — how we work, how we socialize, how we learn, and how we simply walk through the world beyond our front doors. Being in public means wearing a face covering — either by mandate or because you're just a conscientious person who doesn't need a mandate to do the right thing — and we're all trying to make the most of this new accessory we're reluctantly yet dutifully sporting. 

Although it seemed like this worldwide health crisis was threatening to cancel summer, many local governments are allowing for a cautious return to some of the seasonal activities we love the most, whether that's going to the beach or having a picnic in the park. But spending time outside during the sunniest months of the year in a face-covering poses an unusual problem: the possibility of getting facial tan lines

"This is the spring skiing dilemma in reverse," says board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, who also happens to be a double black-diamond skier. She's referring to how those who wear goggles on the slopes can wind up with a tan on just the lower half of their faces. With the face coverings we're wearing, the upper part of our faces not covered in fabric may be susceptible to tanning with extended sun exposure — even while wearing sunscreen — leaving the bottom half of our faces a lighter color. 

"Most cloth face masks will offer a UPF of 30 or more," board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung tells Allure (UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and is basically the fabric version of an SPF measurement), explaining that you aren't likely to tan through a face covering. Add any additional SPF from sunscreen underneath, and you could be looking at a noticeable skin-tone disparity between the uncovered top half and covered bottom half of your face after being outside for a while. 

That, of course, is no excuse to either forego a face covering or skip sunscreen. In fact, Shamban actually recommends choosing a specifically SPF-protectant face covering or getting high-SPF face-covering liners, possible tan lines be damned.

But that doesn't mean you can't successfully prevent — or, if you didn't read this in time, correct— facial tan lines from wearing a face covering. Here's what the experts say.

Keep wearing sunscreen on your entire face.

Both Cheung and Shamban insist on wearing sunscreen no matter what, on exposed skin and underneath your mask. "The best protection from the sun is physical blocking," Cheung says. However, a cream or lotion formula isn't ideal under a face-covering because, as Shamban warns, it can rub off easily. 

"Best practice is to use a stick or quick-dry spray sunscreen under a mask," Shaman tells Allure.

Her recommendation: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Stick, a personal favorite of hers. "I took it to Aspen and wore it with my mask daily," she says. "It was ideal for touch-ups, it glides on quickly and smoothly, and it stays put."

Up your sun protection with accessories.

If you're really serious about preventing facial tan lines, prepare to go incognito. "Sunscreen aside, the best way to avoid the 'COVID mask tan' is to add oversized sunglasses with UV protective lenses," Shamban says. That way, more of your face is covered — though still not entirely. For that, grab a hat.

"Today, almost all hats carry an SPF rating," Shamban says. "Be sure it has a wide brim that basically covers and shades the entire area between the forehead and mask."

Break out the self-tanner.

If you simply couldn't avoid an obvious line of demarcation caused by wearing a mask in the sun, all hope is not lost. There are ways to quickly camouflage the unevenness. 

"To even out your tan lines, keep your skin hydrated and exfoliated," Cheung recommends. We love Cetaphil Extra Gentle Daily Scrub, which achieves both of those goals. "And try some self-tanner. The new formulations won't make you orange."

Spray-tanning expert Kristyn Pradas of Pradas Glow, says a self-tanning mousse is the best way to go. "Pump a little mousse into the cap," she says. "You can then use a large, dense, synthetic makeup brush to do an all-over application." Pradas says circular motions are the best way to blend it, and she emphasizes how important it is to sweep into the hairline and down the neck.

Next, she says, grab a small, dense, synthetic makeup brush. "Go back to where you have the tan lines and fill in the area as if you were coloring in a coloring book," Pradas explains. "You may need to fill it in a few times to get the desired shade." Just make sure to wait about 30 seconds in-between applications so that the mousse is not wet when you add more.

Use tone-evening skin care.

Although it may not fix the difference immediately, some skin-care products can definitely help expedite a more even skin tone. 

"You can gently exfoliate and use a multi-acid complex pad on the area," Shamban says — Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel pads are a long-loved option. Another approach: "Double down on your vitamin C or incorporate hydroquinone, which is effective and used to spot-treat the darker area." She's a fan of Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum, which contains hydroquinone, and SkinBetter Alto Defense Serum, which contains vitamin C. We're also big fans of SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, a discoloration-fighting vitamin C serum and repeat Allure Best of Beauty winner. Don't expect to see overnight results, though. 

An especially effective option, Shamban says, is a cream called Mesostetic Cosmelan 2, which is made to address hyperpigmentation and often used as maintenance after a dermatologist-office peel. In addition to treating discoloration, she appreciates what it can do to naturally camouflage tan lines. 

"It causes the entire face to flush and almost have a sun-kissed look for about two to three days after application, which will help to blend the two areas more closely," Shamban says. "If applied at night, your skin will appear more even when you wash by morning as it gets to work." 

She says that using it two more times within a week will help with the blend, and your skin will gently peel as it targets the hyperpigmentation. 

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Originally Appeared on Allure

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