As anyone who's spent time under a mask recently can tell you, the practice isn't often enjoyable. And as the weather warms up, face masks could become particularly sweaty and uncomfortable.
"Summers are tough," said Nicole Jochym, a third-year medical student at Cooper Medical School at Rowan University in New Jersey who works with the Sew Face Masks Philadelphia organization.
Even as temperatures rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends wearing face masks, and in some cases, it is required. The good news is that there are some strategies to help make masks more bearable in warm weather.
Choose your material. Wearing a mask can be hot and make breathing feel more difficult. With that in mind, you'll want to make sure your mask is reasonably breathable to both increase comfort and decrease the impulse to touch the mask to adjust it — which is a big no-no when out and about.
"You want a breathable fabric," Jochym said. Her recommendation: Use 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 added, because they often are made from synthetic materials and can make masks hotter and harder to breathe through.
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, try one that has adjustable ties, said Carrie Kovarik, an associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
"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 seconded that, encouraging using tie masks because they are adjustable and thus have the potential for a better, more comfortable fit. "Every face shape is different," she said.
Bring extras. Cloth masks should not be worn when they become damp or wet, experts say. That 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.
"You have to be able to switch it out as it gets damp on the inside," she said.
If you do need to change your mask, do it in an area without other people. "You don't want to take it off in the middle of everything," she said.
And follow proper techniques, including washing your hands and not touching the front of the mask.
Limit how long you wear one. Especially in hot weather, try to limit the amount of time you need to wear a mask. The CDC says that masks should be worn in "public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," such as stores.
To help keep your mask time to a minimum, Jochym said, plan your trips around the number of masks that you have available. And do not wear your mask off your nose when out in public.
Take care of your skin. Kovarik said that health care workers are advised to take a 15-minute break from wearing their mask every two hours to give their skin time to air out.
Hot weather can add to the problem, causing moisture to build up under a mask, which can irritate your skin (similar to a diaper rash). "In hot weather, you will have a lot of moisture under there, and the skin can break down a little more," Kovarik said. "Moisture from breath or heat builds up, and you can get a rash."
If your skin does become irritated, Kovarik recommends using a noncomedogenic (non-pore-blocking) moisturizer and avoiding products like petroleum jelly. When you get home and remove your mask, apply your preferred salve to help repair the skin.
Additionally, Kovarik recommends not wearing makeup under a mask because it could further clog your pores.