A face mask tan is the new sunglasses tan.

By Hana Hong
July 16, 2020
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Weird tan lines have always been a pesky occurrence to watch out for, but with this pandemic summer, we’ve been introduced to a whole new category of problems: face mask tan lines. As if bikini tan lines weren’t bad enough, a recent study from Medicare Advantage showed that a lot of Americans have been facing (pun intended) the newfound issue, especially for beachgoers that require people to don face masks as part of its official reopening. Even Reddit has blown up about the topic, with subcategories filled with photos of bad face mask tan lines. 

Alas, the CDC still stresses how important it is for everyone to wear a face mask right now. So how can you avoid “face mask face”? We consulted a dermatologist, tanning expert, and senior researcher at Medicare to find out how to handle uneven lines without compromising your safety.  

How to avoid face mask tan lines

Like a lot of skin issues, face mask tan lines can be prevented with good SPF practices. In other words, don’t skimp on the sunscreen! Make sure to up your facial SPF application before putting on your mask and reapply religiously throughout the day. According to Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Atolla, you want something with a high level of SPF, but also light, oil-free, and fast-absorbing in order to prevent maskne (another common issue with face masks). She recommends Elta MD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 ($30) and CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 ($19) for people with sensitive skin.

“Although mineral-based sunscreens are more environmentally friendly, it tends to sit on top of the skin and can be easily rubbed off by a mask that shifts and slides around. Use a chemical-based sunscreen that will be more deeply absorbed into the skin and provide longer-lasting protection without rubbing off,” says Christian Worstell, senior researcher and study author for MedicareAdvantage.com. “You may also want to switch to a sport sunscreen that is less likely to run down your face when you sweat as certain chemical ingredients in sunscreen can damage the integrity of rubber or elastic materials on the mask.”

After that, it’s all about reapplication. Because SPF is only fully effective for two hours after you put it on, you’ll want to carry around an extra bottle whenever you go out. Briefly remove your face mask in a socially distanced spot each time you reapply, and try to wait at least 15 minutes before you expose yourself to the sun. Pairing your face mask with a wide-brimmed sun hat can also help. 

How to fix a face mask tan line

Now let’s say you already have a wonky line starting to manifest on your face. No worries—even if your go-to tanning salon isn’t open, there are ways to minimize the appearance of your tan line at home. For starters, do NOT use UV rays to tan the rest of your face. Giving your already tanned face more unprotected exposure to the sun is never a good idea.

However, you can apply a tinted sunscreen or bronzing makeup to help even out your skin tone. You can also use self-tanner on the lower half of your face to even things out, but it’s important to exfoliate first as your skins cells have likely been dried out by your mask and will be turning over soon.  

If you're using face drops, mix two to four drops of it into your serum or moisturizer and massage it into the skin. You can tan the upper half of your face with one layer and double the amount of tan for the untanned area where your mask would sit. If your line is very light, you might get away with spritzing an even layer of bronzing face mist to even out your complexion.

Sophie Evans, skin-finishing expert at St. Tropez, recommends using a self-tanner that has a built-in guide color (like instant bronzer) so that you can see exactly where you’re applying.

“Start by applying to the pale area and stop at the line. Next, take a non-oil-based moisturizer (oils interfere with self-tans) and blend the moisturizer over the tan line with a kabuki brush to prevent the line from deepening. Allow the self-tan to develop overnight and cleanse your face with lukewarm water in the morning to prevent any from transferring onto your mask. If the lower pale area is still a little lighter, you may need to repeat. If it looks even, make sure to lightly exfoliate your face every few days and reapply when necessary.”

Shop the expert-recommended products below.

1

This quick-absorbing sunscreen contains broad spectrum SPF 30 to help protect skin from UVA and UVB rays, along with a blend of ceramides to help restore and maintain the skin’s natural barrier. Since it’s non-comedogenic, oil-free, and fragrance-free, it’s suitable for sensitive skin and won’t break out acne-prone faces.

To buy: $19; ulta.com.

2

There’s some serious UV protection and hydration in this little bottle made with SPF 40 and hyaluronic acid. It also comes in a tinted version in case you need to hide already existing tan marks.

To buy: $30; dermstore.com.

3

With innovative skin tone adapting pigments, this quick-dry, water-resistant formula leaves behind a velvet finish. The cosmetic airbrush creates a very fine corrective film that leaves a light, silky feeling on the skin, and wipes away tan lines for an all even complexion.

To buy: $66; alleven.com.

4

Super simple to use, this concentrated blend transforms your favourite moisturizer, serum, or face oil into a bespoke self tanner. The mix of organic tanning actives works with your skin tone to give you a natural-looking tan, while plant oils and aloe vera deliver an extra boost of hydration.

To buy: $49; sephora.com.

5

If the tan line on your face is really subtle, a face mist might be able to finish the job. This ultra-lightweight transparent mist is infused with 100 percent natural tanning agents, as well as antioxidant-rich hibiscus extract to nourish your skin. You can spritz under or over makeup (no need to rinse!) for a wearable golden tan. The pigment should subtly develop over four to eight hours and will last you for several days. Tip: Don’t forget your neck and décolletage to avoid obvious demarcation lines!

To buy: $30; ulta.com.

6

Don’t be scared of the color when you first apply—although it goes on dark and streaky, the product will absorb into the skin evenly once you wash it off. The brown pigment serves as an instant bronzer (guide color) so you know exactly where you’re applying. Wait about eight hours for it to fully develop, and rinse off to reveal a natural tan.

To buy: $30; ulta.com.