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This article originally appeared on bhg.com.
In most areas of the country, summer brings hot, humid weather, which can make wearing a face mask nearly unbearable. If you're out in the sun with a mask on, you might feel sweat drenching the fabric or find it difficult for cool air to reach your lungs. No matter how cumbersome it feels, however, wearing a face-covering remains a vital step in preventing the spread of COVID-19 (and in some areas and stores, it's required). "As states reopen, masks are more important now than ever," says Dr. Purvi Parikh, a New York-based allergy and immunology specialist with Allergy & Asthma Network. "The main concern is that people may not wear them if they're too uncomfortable."
Besides discomfort, wearing a mask in the scorching summer heat can contribute to a variety of health concerns, including breathing difficulties, skin irritation, or even heat exhaustion. To stay safe this summer, follow these tips on wearing a face mask safely and comfortably as temperatures rise.
1. Choose a Cool, Breathable Material
No matter what style of face mask you choose, it's essential that you're able to breathe properly while it's on. If your face covering is too thick or tight-fitting, it can restrict your breathing and become even more uncomfortable when it's hot or humid. Masks with filters can be especially difficult to breathe through if the filter material doesn't allow proper airflow.
Instead of going without, Parikh suggests opting for a looser, more lightweight mask when outdoors. "Even loose-fitting masks will reduce transmission by 70% if everyone is wearing one," she says. Light-colored cotton fabric, for example, is generally more breathable than synthetic fabrics and will absorb less heat from the sun. Just be sure the fabric completely covers your mouth and nose, and continue to maintain a safe distance with others as much as possible.
Related: These Everyday Materials Make the Best Fabrics for Homemade Face Masks
2. Prevent Skin Irritation
Wearing a mask pressed against your face for long periods of time can cause skin irritations such as acne or rashes. Parikh suggests choosing a mask made of cotton, which is typically less irritating for the skin than other fabrics and can be worn more loosely around the face. "Sometimes it's not just the material, but the pressure it's putting on your skin that causes irritation," she says. A mask that's secured with ties instead of elastic loops, for example, can allow you to loosen the fit if needed.
You should also wash your face mask frequently to get rid of bacteria that could contribute to acne and other skin irritations. Plan to launder the mask in warm water after each wear.
3. Bring Multiple Masks
If you know you're going to be in a public place for an extended period of time, consider bringing extra masks so you can swap with a clean one as needed. Sweat and moisture from your breath can dampen the fabric of the mask, making it less effective at filtering out airborne particles. Change the mask if you notice the fabric feels damp or wet, but remember to do so away from other people and wash your hands before and after replacing.
Related: The 3 Most Common Face Mask Mistakes People Make
4. Prevent Overheating
Wearing a mask over your mouth and nose can make it more difficult to breathe, especially for people with existing conditions, such as asthma, claustrophobia, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In warm weather, that could lead to shortness of breath and allow heat to build up in the body, resulting in illnesses like heat exhaustion or heatstroke. To keep cool while wearing a mask, avoid being outside in the direct sun for too long and stay hydrated, Parikh suggests. She notes that you might need to drink more water than usual in the summer to make up for increased sweating.
5. Limit Your Need to Wear a Mask
To minimize your discomfort, limit the amount of time you need to wear a mask. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), masks should be worn in public areas where it's difficult to maintain physical distance, such as the grocery store. If you know you won't be able to avoid other people, consider staying home on particularly warm days. "If it's not essential to be out on a hot, humid day," Parikh says, "don't go out. That's safest."