Nine hacks to make wearing a mask less annoying

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 03 August 2020

Nine simple ways to take the pain out of wearing a mask.

As face masks have become the new normal across Victoria, many of us are grappling with foggy glasses, sore ears and skin irritations. We know masks are a necessary part of the battle against COVID-19 (along with good hand hygiene, social distancing and staying home and getting tested if unwell), but now that all Victorians are required to wear a face covering when outside the house, how can we minimise the discomfort? Here are some simple solutions to address the most common mask problems. 

And remember, no matter what sort of mask or face covering you choose, to be effective it must cover both your mouth and nose.

Man with beard and glasses wearing face mask

Experts say facial hair may reduce your mask’s effectiveness.

Nine hacks to make wearing a mask less painful 

My glasses fog up

The vexed issue of how to avoid foggy glasses is something surgeons have been dealing with for decades. A paper from the Royal College of Surgeons of England reveals that bespectacled theatre staff favour washing glasses with soapy water and letting them air dry. The idea is that the soap leaves a thin film on the glasses that prevents misting. Some say using a liquid hand soap works better than dishwashing liquid.

Another way to stop steamed-up glasses is to fold a strip of tissue or fabric to one centimetre wide and run it along inside the top edge of your mask to absorb moisture as you breathe. If you’re wearing a surgical mask, choose one with a wire insert along the top and pinch it tightly across your nose to minimise fogging. Alternatively use surgical tape to create a tighter seal across the top of the mask.   

If you’re making your own masks, consider sewing bendable pipe cleaners or twist ties into the top of the mask to achieve the same result. 

And, if you do wear glasses, remember to clean and disinfect them frequently. 

My mask doesn’t fit properly

If your mask gapes at the sides, dentist Olivia Cuid has the answer. Her 60-second video on how to make a mask fit better has gone viral on TikTok

Here’s her hack:

  • Fold your mask in half lengthwise.
  • Grab an ear loop and tie with a knot as close as you can to the mask. Repeat for the other side.
  • Open the mask. You’ll see a little opening on the sides next to the ear loop, which you’ll then tuck in to make a better fit.

I have a beard. What should I do?

It might not be what those who have cultivated a full-flowing beard or lockdown designer stubble want to hear, but the best advice is that facial hair may reduce the effectiveness of wearing a mask

While many Australian medicos have taken a razor to the problem, others suggest using a government-approved face shield or a bandana as a mask alternative. 

I find it difficult to breathe

The Department of Health and Human Services says it’s okay not to wear a mask in public if you have a medical condition such as asthma, which makes it difficult to breathe with a mask.

Asthma Australia surveyed 236 asthmatics of whom 69 per cent found masks made it harder for them to breathe. It suggests getting a medical note and carrying it with you when you leave home, but warns of “that sideways stare from a stranger, friend or colleague that screams, ‘I’m judging you’ ”. 

Asthma Australia advises to avoid judging people who are not wearing a mask. They could have a medical condition that prevents it.

Mean with long beard wearing a face mask
Woman wearing face mask

My ears hurt 

Sore ears are a common complaint, but there are solutions. If you wear a baseball cap sew buttons on the sides to hold the ties, or sew buttons to a headband.  

Alternatively try tying the ear loops behind your head using anything from a string of paper clips to a plastic monkey from the 1960s Barrel of Monkeys game. Choosing a mask with ties that go around your head will not only avoid sore ears, you may find it easier to get a snugger fit. A little bit of moisturiser applied around your ears may also help prevent chafing.  

I get a rash 

The issue of skin irritation, inflammation and pimples due to wearing masks is so common there’s a name for it – maskne. 

Some say it’s caused by heat and moisture building up inside the mask or the friction of the mask rubbing on your skin. Even those without a history of acne are reporting maskne outbreaks.  

Dermatologist Dr Li-Chuen Wong says skin irritation when wearing a mask suggests a contact allergy to dyes or adhesives found in the mask or detergents used to wash the mask. She recommends using a scent-free moisturiser every few hours to protect the skin and avoiding heavy make-up. She also recommends ensuring the mask is fitted properly to avoid causing friction dermatitis.  

I can’t see where I’m going 

Masks can restrict your lower-periphery vision which can be a hazard, especially for older people out on their daily walk, according to the National Ageing Research Institute.  

Normally we rely on lower-periphery vision to see where we’re stepping, but a mask restricts this vision to about waist height.  

To prevent trips and falls, the institute recommends using the mantra “mask up, look down” when out and about, particularly when walking on uneven paths or approaching a kerb. 

I need to communicate with deaf people 

One in 10 Australians are partially or completely deaf and many rely on lip reading or facial gestures to communicate, so masks present problems. If you regularly meet deaf people you might consider using a face shield. 

The Department of Health and Human Services recognises the difficulty and says “you can remove your face covering if you are communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication”. 

Deaf Victoria has developed a range of “advocacy” graphics that deaf people can download to a smartphone, computer or tablet which explain the situation. The graphics offer a range of options, including asking others to write down information in plain English. 

Alternatively, both Apple and Android have a speech-to-text app for smartphones. 

I look like a zombie 

Nobody can see your smile or laugh, so let your eyes do the talking. Paediatricians recommend exaggerating your normal facial expressions to get the non-verbal message across. A big genuine smile will make your eyes light up so others can see you’re smiling. Raising your eyebrows, nodding or tilting your head to one side indicate interest. Making eye contact and speaking clearly are also more important than ever when communicating from behind a mask.  

And don’t let wearing a face-covering mask your personality. As Lady Gaga recently posted on Instagram in a mask with spikes and chains – “Be yourself, but wear a mask!”