The other day I was hiking with a friend. When we both arrived to the hike, we began applying sunscreen to protect us from the particularly hot 90 degree day. Because of COVID-19, we both planned to hike in a face mask. While I was applying sunscreen to my body and my face, my friend asked why I was doing my face if my mask would cover it. And honestly, I didn’t really have an answer. It was simply out of habit. But afterwards, I began wondering if I could get away without. Short answer: no.
Why don’t face masks protect the skin from UV rays?
My friend’s argument was this: the cloth face mask has multiple layers of fabric and was made to protect us from the virus and anything else that could potentially get in, so why not the sun? Wrong.
As it turns out, a common cloth face mask is the equivalent to SPF 7. And what’s worse? The looser the fabric (read: breathable) the worst it is at blocking UV rays. The breathable face masks have been marketed for months now and are only growing in popularity as the lightweight capabilities are ideal for warmer weather. But it’s bad for our skin, considering the American Academy of Dermatology insist everyone wear at least SPF 30 daily.
It’s important to note that if your face mask gets wet while you are wearing it (say when you’re working out), the SPF count is even lower. Harsh but accurate translation: wear sunscreen (even indoors). Unless you want to risk being sunburned or have dark spots and acne getting worse. The SPF in the sunscreen acts as a protective layer against UV rays. We recommend wearing at least SPF 30 under your mask at all times, even if it isn’t sunny out.
Check out our favorite sunscreens
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Buy it for $34 from dermastore.com
SkinMedica Essential Defense Everyday Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 47
Buy it for $38 from dermastore.com
Black Girl Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30
Buy it for $18.99 from blackgirlsunscreen.com
Face masks that protect your skin
In addition to wearing sunscreen under your mask, you might also want to opt for UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) face masks. These masks are constructed and sewn to help block UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin. You’ll get the most protection if you pair a UPF mask with sunscreen when you are outside. Our favorites are below!
Coolibar Blackburn UV Face Mask UPF 50+
Buy it for $24 from collibar.com
Sunday Afternoons UVShield Face Mask
Buy it for $12 from sundayafternoons.com
Luminora Face Mask
Buy it for $15 from luminora.com