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The #1 Face Mask Mistake You're Making, According to this Doctor

To stay protected against coronavirus, don't skip this crucial step.

So you've been vigilant about washing your hands, and are wearing a face mask when you're out in public, along with following social-distancing guidelines. But despite your good intentions, you still might contribute to the spread of coronavirus if you make this mistake. 

"The #1 face mask mistake you are making is not washing a cloth mask daily," says Elizabeth Mullans, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Uptown Dermatology in Houston, Texas. "Masks should be washed every day in hot water with laundry detergent and white vinegar—which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties—and dried on higher heat settings in the dryer."

The kind of white vinegar you'll find in the grocery store will work. Common white vinegar contains about 5 percent acetic acid, which kills some bacteria and viruses. Soap alone will do the job; just consider vinegar a laundry booster. 

To ensure you're optimally protected, it's a good idea to stock up on cloth masks and gentle laundry detergent to prevent any skin irritation, particularly if you have sensitive skin. "I recommend having multiple masks in case the fabric deteriorates from frequent washing and drying," says Mullans. "Detergents that are free of dyes and perfumes are better to use, especially with frequent washing; my favorite is Arm and Hammer Sensitive Skin Free and Clear detergent."

RELATED: 15 Mistakes You're Making With Face Masks

Several recent studies have found that wearing a face mask consistently can help slow the spread of Covid-19. A study conducted in China found that wearing a face mask at home reduced the spread of coronavirus by 79% among family members. An expert in airborne disease transmission at Virginia Tech recently told PolitiFact that a cloth mask can reduce the amount of virus inhaled by 80 percent. And mathematicians at Arizona State University said wearing masks "may meaningfully reduce community transmission of Covid-19 and decrease peak hospitalizations and deaths," and that mask-wearing can help prevent healthy people from getting sick and infected but asymptomatic people from passing the disease along.

While you're remembering to wash your masks regularly, don't forget to wash your face, so you don't emerge from lockdown with breakouts. "Another face mask mistake people make is not washing their face twice a day," says Mullans. "Sweat, skin oils, and bacteria are trapped on the skin when masks are worn, which can result in acne." Here, too, gentle cleansing is important. "People who are prone to acne would benefit from a cleanser that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Otherwise, a mild cleanser such as Cetaphil or CeraVe would be fine."

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more
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