A man holds a bottle of sunscreen over his face like a mask.

Wearing Masks and Sunscreen: Do You Still Need It?

It's become the new normal to wear a mask around other people. Due to COVID-19, we may not be around others as often, but in many areas masks are mandated. Even in places where they're not, many people wear them. This begs the question for those who have had skin cancer in the past or just want to protect themselves: Wearing masks and sunscreen - do you still need it?

How sunscreen protects the skin

Sunscreen works by blocking harmful ultraviolet rays. These ultraviolet rays do many things to hurt your skin and both types are concerning when it comes to your health. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin, leading to skin cancer. No sunscreen blocks all of these, but the higher the SPF, the better the protection. A broad-spectrum sunscreen helps block UVB rays, too - up to as high as 98 percent.1

Choosing the right sunscreen is important. The best kind you can get has an SPF above 30 (the higher, the better) and works with broad-spectrum protection. Waterproof sunscreen is also important. Even if you do not plan on being in the water, sweat is a consideration. It's best to get one that's waterproof, so you have it on hand. Then you're protected better no matter what you're doing - both recreationally and for work.

What about masks and sun protection?

There are plenty of variables in how much sun protection you're getting from your mask. Darker colors work best, tightly woven material is better, and synthetic materials offer better protection. The problem is, even if you have all three of these in the mask you wear, it doesn't protect your whole face. A mask is there to protect others from COVID-19 and provide a safer environment for everyone. Yet, according to a dermatologist at Mount Sinai in NYC, your masks gives you the equivalent of about an SPF 7.2 That's not enough sun protection no matter what. Besides, you usually don't wear a whole face mask so much of your skin is exposed.

Do I need sunscreen when wearing a mask?

That's a resounding yes. Based on the mask not covering the whole face, and only providing an iota of SPF on the parts it does cover, you still need sunscreen. Another consideration is getting your mask wet. This decreases the effectiveness of it protecting your skin at all. Let's look at it this way. If the best mask provides that SPF of less than 10, how much protection does it provide with looser woven fabric, being wet, and being the wrong material?

You need to protect your entire skin from the harmful effects of the sun. And the best way to do that is to wear sunscreen underneath your mask. Just put on your sunscreen like you normally would, let it dry, then wear your mask. You'll then have more protection from UV rays. And don't forget that you need sunscreen protection on cloudy days too. The sun may not be bright, but the rays are still harmful.

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