The new normal involves us wearing a face mask every time we step outside of the house — including going to, from, and at work for those who are asked to report back to the office. It's a precautionary measure we all need to take, after all. However, it also raises the question of if female employees should still be wearing makeup under face masks. Some industries, particularly client-facing ones such as the service industry, require female employees to wear makeup whenever they’re on duty. For others, makeup is a form of self-expression they can't do without. A lot of skin professionals have cautioned against doing so, as the humidity and friction caused by wearing a face mask already increase the stress your skin goes through. But is there a good side to it?
To get to the bottom of this quandary, we consulted Dr. Angela Hwee, Lead Doctor of The DRx Clinic, and Dr. Geraldine Tan, the Director and Principal Psychologist at The Therapy Room, to weigh the benefits of wearing or not wearing makeup under face masks in our new reality.
Pro: It’s a source of comfort
“Makeup has been a comfort for many,” Dr. Tan stated. At a time when we’re experiencing turmoil and anxiety due to the health crisis, a calming process like putting on makeup gives a sense of calm and familiarity. There is also a power to makeup, aside from aesthetic purposes. “The touch of the lipstick can add a smile to their faces, the mascara helps them to look at things just a wee bit more positively.”
Pro: It’s empowering to wear
There are several aspects that make wearing makeup, however minimal, a true secret weapon for women. It's not just a metaphorical mask that covers insecurities and puffy eyes. Another benefit of wearing makeup under face masks is using it to bring attention to other parts of the face. “It enhances areas that the woman feels comfortable about.”
Pro: It can be used to distract and deflect attention
While wearing a mask is now part of our “new normal”, there are still some negative connotations associated with it, according to Dr. Tan. Feelings of fear, negativity, and paranoia arise with the act of wearing a face mask whereas before, it was simply associated with the prevention of illness. A benefit of wearing makeup is it can draw attention away from your face mask to the eyes. “It can help to indicate that things are okay” and can be reassuring to whoever you’re interacting with, especially for women who have to interact with people face-to-face for a living. “It indicates [we’re] taking pride, care, and efforts in our jobs.”
Con: It can be unhygienic if not used properly
But a lot of medical professionals discourage people from wearing makeup under face masks despite its numerous psychological benefits because of skin problems that arise from it such as acne and dryness. “I feel that wearing makeup is not the real problem. Rather it is the choice of makeup products and whether the makeup products are still clean and hygienic to use,” shared Dr. Hwee. Wearing unsanitised or expired makeup further encourages bacterial growth, given the increased humidity that wearing a mask causes.
Con: It can aggravate pre-existing conditions
If you already have pre-existing skin conditions, a drawback to wearing makeup under face masks is it will likely further irritate your skin. In addition to this, your mask can also bring issues, such as eczema or dermatitis, to the forefront. Dr. Hwee said that if you notice a rash centred in the area where your mask comes into contact with your skin, you may be sensitive to the disposable mask you're wearing or the detergent you used for your washable mask. “Ensure that all the soap or detergent is completely rinsed off or even change the soap or detergent used.”
Con: It makes us touch our faces more often
The new normal involves not only continuing to wear masks but also not touching our faces with unsanitised hands. And since we need to use our hands in applying or retouching our makeup, you may need to think twice about it. We increase the risk posed to our health if we don’t wash our hands properly before touching up the makeup we put on, warned Dr. Hwee. She continued, “Another possibility is that our face is dirty and by touching up our makeup, we may transfer the germs to our makeup products or other parts of our face.” If you cannot avoid wearing makeup for work, you can always practice proper disinfection of your makeup and tools as much as you can.
The makeup you can wear at the bare minimum
Aside from sanitising your makeup and tools, both doctors recommend swapping out your before-COVID makeup for items that have lighter formulations if you do want to get all the benefits of wearing makeup while wearing a face mask. In particular, Dr. Hwee recommended going for a tinted sunscreen for its added skincare perks. This, she said, provides UV protection, coverage, and brightening aspects — all without the use of foundation. On the other hand, Dr. Tan suggested to put focus on your eye makeup rather than a lipstick. “They say eyes are windows to our soul. It helps the other party to focus on our eyes while talking rather than looking everywhere.”
So while there are a lot of benefits — and drawbacks — to wearing makeup in the current situation, it’s up to your personal discretion whether you will or won’t. If it makes you feel good, do so while taking into consideration the adjustments you have to make. If you prefer not to, we certainly won’t judge.
Instead of foundation, try wearing these tinted moisturisers under your face masks.