Sore ears? These simple tweaks can help.

By Emily VanSchmus and Jessica Bennett
Updated July 09, 2020
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This weekend I grabbed a few groceries at Trader Joe's, which means I waited in a socially-distanced line outside the store and wore a fabric face mask. While I waited for my turn to buy orange chicken and two-buck chuck, I had to resist the urge to adjust my homemade sewn fabric mask (thanks, Mom!) every few minutes. My mask fits well, but I'm not used to having anything on my face or around my ears, and I couldn't escape the feeling of it rubbing against my skin. If you're not used to wearing one (or if you have dry or sensitive skin), face masks can become pretty uncomfortable after wearing one for a long stretch of time. 

If you're experiencing discomfort while wearing a face mask, these simple tips can help.

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If you're wearing a disposable surgical mask, gapping at the sides (a problem for children or those with smaller faces) can make you feel exposed to the virus. For a better fit, try this quick face mask hack, which was shared by a dentist on TikTok, to create a tighter seal around the sides. Start by folding the mask in half lengthwise and tying a knot in each ear strap as close to the mask as possible. Then unfold the mask, tuck the gap on each side back in toward the ear loops, and put on the mask as usual. The small folds on each side should eliminate gapping and create a snug face mask fit.


If you're wearing a mask that loops around your ears (like our DIY no-sew fabric face mask), the skin on top of your ears can get sore quickly. An easy solution is to get a wide headband that fits over your ears and attach buttons to the side. Then just fit the loops around the buttons rather than your ears. You can make your own by sewing buttons to a headband you already have, or buy one specially made for wearing face masks, like the Scrunch Button Headband ($20, LoveYourMelon).


I recently heard someone compare wearing a face mask to the feeling they get when they're claustrophobic, and I can absolutely relate. Especially when you're not used to having something sit directly against your mouth and nose, wearing the mask can be pretty uncomfortable. While you won't be able to totally mitigate this effect, wearing a mask made from 100% cotton will allow you to breathe as easily as possible through the fabric. Materials like polyester don't breathe easily and can add to your discomfort if you've experienced the feeling of being claustrophobic in a mask.


If your skin is sore from repeatedly wearing a mask that loops over the tops of your ears, try swapping for a mask that ties in the back instead. It will take a few extra minutes to put on (and if you have long hair like me, they're much easier to tie when your hair is in a ponytail), but the ties attach at the back of your head and base of your neck, leaving the area around your ears free. If you don't have one, this pretty floral Face Mask with Ties ($8.99, Etsy), is made from 100% cotton and ships next-day.


Fabric rubbing against dry skin can quickly make the area raw; if the tops of your cheeks are extra sensitive after wearing a mask, try moisturizing before you wear your mask next. Put a good amount of moisturizer on your skin, and you should notice a difference. I use Bliss Drench & Quench ($19.99, because it's lightweight and doesn't make my skin feel greasy. Keep in mind that wearing heavy makeup under your mask can also lead to discomfort: Makeup residue can make the fabric dirty, which in turn makes it harder for air to flow freely through the fabric. If that happens, you can easily launder your face mask at home


Recently a 12-year-old boy from Canada made headlines when he made and donated over 1,200 plastic ear guards with a 3-D printer. As it turns out, these small plastic devices are an easy way to keep your mask loops from rubbing on your ears. It functions similarly to the button headbands: If you have a face mask with loops, just attach the loops to either end of the plastic. The guard rests on the back of your head, keeping the mask fitted around your face and the loops away from your ears. Since most of us don't have a 3-D printer at home, you can buy one online like this Face Mask Ear Guard, ($2.88, Etsy).

Comments (1)

June 11, 2020
I connect a large paperclip between both ear bands and place it behind my head. This help in not having the bands rub the back of the ears. When not wearing the mask it hangs on the neck quite nicely and conveniently.