I'm going to kick this off with two statements that are likely beyond obvious to you (unless you've spent the first half of 2020 living off the land in the desolate wilderness with nothing but a penknife and a ball of cord to keep you company, à la My Side of The Mountain). You should be wearing a mask. And it's freaking hot outside.
What do these two things have to do with other? Well, wearing a mask in the heat is a pain. Masks can get sweaty, feel stuffy, and can even leave us with a heat rash.
“It’s worth acknowledging that masks are uncomfortable, especially when it's hot and humid," says Nate Favini, MD, medical lead at Forward, a concierge medical service. “They’re annoying, and I don’t think we should pretend that’s not true. I’m empathetic — but it doesn’t mean that wearing a mask isn’t crucial.”
Because the fact is, face masks work. They reduce transmission, helping to curb the spread of coronavirus and to quite literally save lives. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an increasing number of cases, so it’s more important than ever to wear a mask,” says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, One Medical’s regional medical director. “Until we have a vaccine, widespread masks are our best defence against this virus."
But when it's hot and sticky outside, and the humid air you're exhaling is getting trapped by your mask, things might get a little stifling, admits Dr. Bhuyan. (To be clear: While there's a myth circulating that wearing a mask can lower oxygen levels, it's not true. Doctors and nurses wear them all day long, and they're doing okay. "Even though we are exhaling carbon dioxide, it already exists in the environment... Wearing the mask does not increase this risk," Dr Bhuyan says.)
So, yes, wearing a face mask on a 100-degree day is still worth it. And to make it easier on you, we asked doctors for their best tips for staying comfortable while doing your civic duty and covering your face in steamy temps.
Get a more breathable mask. Choose one that has more structure than those that lie flat against your mouth. But Dr Favini cautions that the more breathable a mask is, the less protection it may offer to the people around you. “There’s the tension of wanting people to have masks that are more comfortable versus wanting them to have ones that are more effective.” So if you're going to be indoors and/or around others, wear a more effective mask, even if it makes you feel hotter. (Or layer up. Which brings us to...)
Choose the right material. This is especially important if you're getting heat rashes from your mask. “Consider fabrics that are either natural, like cotton, or synthetic fabrics that wick away sweat, such as fabric found in exercise clothing,” says Ted Lain, MD, dermatologist and chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology. “The latest recommendation is to use multiple layers of fabric to produce the most effective protective barrier to the virus, so instead of using a thick cotton, consider a thinner cotton fabric but layering it.”
Bring backups. A sweaty mask stinks — literally and figuratively. So have a few fresh ones in your bag. That way if you sweat through one, you’ll have another at the ready. This can make you more comfortable, and prevent breakouts. “Sweating and the humidity in the mask area certainly can lead to a dermatitis, or even an acne breakout,” says Dr Lain. Pack each extra in a clean, sealable plastic baggie so it won't be exposed to any germs before you slip it on your face.
Time your "chin strap" moments. Sure, if you're totally alone, then it's fine to pull your mask down and take a few deep breaths. But then pull it back up, Dr Favini says: “Wearing your mask down around your chin is like having a condom and leaving it on the nightstand while you have sex."