What Are Face Mask Liners, And Do They Work?

As if you needed to add another layer to your coronavirus face mask, yet another product has hit the market ― mask liners. Not to be confused with a mask filter, which goes in between the layers of your mask, a mask liner is meant to be worn under your mask and improve the condition of your skin. Note: It doesn’t make any claims to protect you from COVID-19.

There’s a liner for every skin issue, from preventing mask acne (aka “maskne”) to protecting against irritation. Some even claim to keep your makeup looking fresh. Mask liners promise solutions to problems that many of us didn’t even know existed until now. But do they really work, and do we really need them? We asked experts to weigh in.

Types of mask liners on the market

Mask liners sound good in theory, and depending on your needs, they might actually work for you. One of the most promising is a mask liner from Franz, which is meant to cushion skin from rubbing against your face mask. It has a cooling effect to protect skin from humidity, thereby preventing clogged pores and breakouts.

Then there are mask liners that act like sheet masks that you can wear under personal protective equipment — but only for a half hour or so. The online reviews are mixed — some call it a “breath of fresh air,” while others complain about the fit. Board-certified dermatologist Samantha Ellis said these products seem highly impractical.

“I’d be worried that people may be inclined to leave this ‘liner’ on for longer stretches of time, which could lead to over-hydration of the outer layer of the skin and, in turn, irritation and breakdown of the skin barrier,” she told HuffPost.

The most common types of mask liners are those from brands such as Skin Inc. and Cheek Sheets, both of which protect your makeup and prevent it from smudging onto the mask. While the material of Cheek Sheets looks like that of a coffee filter and could be abrasive to skin, mask liners like these could have an added benefit.

“Something like Cheek Sheeks could improve the filtration efficiency of your mask, making it protect you and others better,” said Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, where she studies airborne disease transmission. “However, all of the liners have the potential to degrade performance if they worsen the fit of your mask — for example, by lifting the edge away from your face and introducing a gap there.”

What to watch out for

This brings us to the most important point, assuming you do decide to go with a mask liner: Make sure it doesn’t affect the fit of your mask. If it creates gaps in the mask or otherwise negatively affects the seal of the mask, it reduces the level of protection for you and those around you.

“Liners are not filters, so while a liner might provide another layer of fabric, its intended purpose is not for added filtration,” said Saskia Popescu, an assistant professor in the biodefense program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

Popescu noted that even a clean-looking mask, one that’s free of makeup smudges and visible dirt, still needs to be cleaned regularly (or disposed of if it’s a disposable mask). In other words, just because you’re using a mask liner doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean your mask as often.

“If someone wants to use a liner, it should not extend the periods being washing/cleaning of the mask,” Popescu said. “Be mindful that while it’s keeping the mask from getting stained from makeup, it’s not a substitute for washing.”

If you’re already using a well-designed, filtered mask, Marr suggested forgoing a liner altogether to avoid degrading the performance of the mask.

“If you’re concerned about lipstick, there are certain types of masks, such as an N95, KN95 and KF94, that extend away from the mouth and are less likely to rub against your lips. These are also the highest performing masks, so it’s a win-win,” Marr said.

The potential benefits of mask liners aren’t always worth the risks

When it comes to the health of your skin, some mask liners may be beneficial.

“To the extent that maskne is triggered by friction, moisture accumulation and bacteria, liners that address one or some of these potential triggers have the potential to be effective,” Ellis said, adding that it’s important for the liner not to disrupt the mask seal.

But even a mask liner that fits well and targets your particular issue may not be the game changer you hope it is. Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist, said that among other causes like stress and hormones, maskne is a form of acne mechanica — “basically acne resulting from the moisture, heat and irritation of the fabric mask.” (Marchbein also mentioned that some maskne may not just be acne, but “rosacea, perioral dermatitis often overlapping with eczema.”)

Instead of adding another layer (especially if you’re already double masking), Marchbein suggested a layered mask with tightly woven cotton for everyday use. And if you’re double masking, wear the mask with the less irritating fabric against your skin.

“No matter what, the disposable mask should be replaced at least daily or sooner if soiled, and the cotton mask should be washed daily. Avoid harsh, non-breathable materials or fabrics that could irritate the skin,” Marchbein said. “Make sure to wash the masks often after every single use like you would your underwear, so they don’t accumulate sweat, dirt and bacteria, which could cause further acne breakouts.”

For now, approach mask liners with some skepticism.

“Mask liners are not something that I currently recommend in my practice, but as new technology and/or designs emerge, I certainly see the potential benefit,” Ellis said.

Until then, if you do try a mask liner, make sure the mask itself is well-fitting and clean, and in no way makes you more vulnerable to getting sick.

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