Yes, You Still Need to Wear SPF With a Mask — Here’s Why

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When a face mask is covering half of your face, wearing makeup might seem like a huge waste of energy — or a recipe for maskne. But there is one product you should still make an effort to apply before heading out on a sanity walk or grocery store run: sunscreen.

Yes, it's still important to wear SPF every day — even if half your face is covered.

While a cloth face mask will protect you and those within six feet of you from the potential spread of COVID-19, it doesn't shield your skin from sun damage and skin cancer.

"A cloth face mask does not provide adequate protection — especially if it is light colored — unless it is a Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) face mask," says Dr. Marie Hayag, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics in New York City. "A garment isn’t considered sun protective if it UPF rating lower than 15. Wearing a UPF face mask provides more UV protection over a traditional cotton face mask because it is made of material that provides more UV protection."

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Like SPF is to sunscreen, UPF is a rating system for fabrics and indications what fraction of UV rays can penetrate through a given fabric. "A UPF rating of 25, for example, means the material allows 1/25 (4%) of UV radiation in, and a UPF 50 garment lets in 1/50 (2%)," adds Dr. Hayag.

However, even if you do wear a UPF 50 mask, a layer of sunscreen should still be applied before putting it on for extra insurance.

"It is just easier to apply all over your face as part of your routine and most people do not keep their mask on all the time outside when they are not within six feet from people," Dr. Hayag says. "So, if you do take the mask off you are still protected from UV protection. If you are outside for long periods of time you may develop mask tan lines — who wants that?!"

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Speaking of tan lines, regularly reapplying your sunscreen will not only prevent them, but also adequately protect your skin from sun damage.

"Practicing good skin protection habits, like putting on sunscreen daily and reapplying often, can prevent awkward face mask tan lines," says Dr. Vanessa Johnson, dermatologist at Health First. "You can also pair your mask with wide-brimmed hat or UV sunglasses to further protect the rest of your face."

Dr. Johnson also points out that masks can make your ears stick out, exposing the area to more sun, so it's important to apply sunscreen on them, too. "Since skin cancer on the ears is one of the highest-risk locations for skin cancers to then spread, it is important to prioritize sun protection for your ears while wearing a mask," she says.

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And make sure it's at least SPF 30

And if you're concerned about sunscreen exacerbating a mask-induced breakout, choosing a noncomedogenic formula without irritants such as fragrance, sodium lauryl sulfate, silicones, as well as emollients is your best bet.

On top of that, both dermatologist recommend a mineral sunscreen as opposed to a chemical formula.

"I prefer mineral-based sunblocks containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as they are non-comedogenic and have anti-inflammatory properties as well," Dr. Johnson explains. "For an added benefit, look for sunblocks with nicotinamide, which is a topical formulation of Vitamin B3, provides increased anti-inflammatory action to calm down red, inflamed or acne-prone skin." The MD is a fan of EltaMD's UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46.

But regardless of whatever sunscreen you choose, just make sure it's at least SPF 30.