On the long list of things I want my skin to be (dewy, smooth, well-moisturized), I have to admit that the adjective “crusty” does not make the cut. And thus, when I awoke to find a pea-sized sore on the corner of my mouth last week that—pardon the gore—shared the rough texture of a tortoise’s shell, a flurry of panic came over me. What kind of quarantine-skin nonsense is this?, I thought. A quick call to two derms revealed that my new favorite accessory, my face mask, could be to blame.
The hot trash stench that gets trapped inside the mask can be a source of mouth sores like this one, says Maggie Kober, MD, a dermatologist with online dermatology service, Apostrophe. “The face mask traps warm moisture that is produced when we exhale,” says Dr. Kober. “For those with acne, this can lead to acne flares. For many others, this warm moist environment surrounding skin creates the perfect condition for naturally occurring yeast and bacteria to flourish and grow more abundant. This overgrowth of yeast and bacteria can produce angular cheilitis, the cracking and sores at the corner of the mouth.” And just when you thought 2020 was out of plot twists…how’s that for gross?
Tanya Kormeili, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, adds that one particular yeast—candida—loves the humid climate captured by your mask. And if your lips are constantly dry, the urge to compulsively lick them will only make the persistent yeast more at home. “If you are drooling extra under that hot mask, you may be at higher risk,” says Dr. Kormeili. “If moisture and saliva get trapped in the corners of your mouth, they become a breeding ground for Candida. As the yeast grows you become more red and inflamed and so the cycle continues.” Bleh.
Since giving up my mask isn’t exactly an option, Dr. Kormeili and Dr. Kober tell me that my new mission in life should be to force a saliva fast upon the unwanted visitors in the corners of my mouth—and there are a few ways to do that. “First, be sure to avoid lip licking,” says Dr. Kober. “To treat the condition, apply an antifungal cream to the corners of your mouth twice per day. Clotrimazole (sounds scary but is just the topical used to treat jock itch) can be purchased over-the-counter, and if this does not resolve the condition, see a dermatologist in person.” Dr. Kormeili adds that it also can’t help to suffocate the Candida with a thick layer of petroleum jelly (because, you know, Vaseline basically solves everything.) Just don’t try a layer of lip gloss, because these types of products can actually worsen the problem.
If all else fails, Dr. Kormeili says to just remember that time you had a vaginal yeast infection from wearing a wet bathing suit and treat your mouth the same way you did your bits. “If you begin to see any symptoms of the yeast, you can treat it the same way as a vaginal yeast infection. You can use the same creams, but you won’t need the messy applicator,” says Dr. Kormeili. Fungus, it turns out, is really all the same no matter where it crops up.
I’ll personally be adding Clotrimazole to the tip-top of my grocery list and making sure the corners of my lips stay bone dry from now until the quarantine is well behind us. As I’ve learned in the past fungus—mouth varieties and otherwise—are but a reality of life’s ever-changing seasons. And I guess the summer of COVID-19 will also be the summer of Candida.
A derm explains everything you need to know about skin care while we’re living in a world of masks:
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