There are few aspects of our lives that have not been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While health and work are two of the biggest areas that come to mind, the effects of the pandemic have also rippled out to smaller, more intimate aspects of our daily lives, including our beauty and self-care routines. 

Once shelter-in-place requirements made public outings — including work commutes and social gatherings — more scarce, daily makeup application quickly became a thing of the past for many people. I have stopped wearing a full face of makeup every day now that I am working from home instead of in an office, and the majority of my face is covered by a mask during the few times that I do go out. The proof is in the numbers, too: A report from The NPD Group shows that makeup sales from April-June 2020 in the U.S. declined approximately 36% from the previous year. 

Despite the dip in sales, many people still enjoy makeup as a hobby and continue to purchase products, myself included. The marketing and allure of a new product release are as strong as ever. But with money being tight for many people (given the current pandemic recession and loss of jobs), and the fact that makeup is being used up at a slower pace, it may be wiser to focus on finishing the products you already own. 

It’s time to shop your stash.

“Shopping your stash” is a term widely used in the beauty community that simply means going through your current collection of products and rediscovering ones you may have forgotten about. It’s about making the old feel like new. A huge part of the excitement about a product lies in that moment when we first take it out of the box in all its shiny, unused glory, full of possibilities. Once we’ve used it a handful of times, that infatuation begins to fade. Unfortunately, this often leads to a habit of buying more makeup to chase that new-product rush when we haven’t even finished the ones in our stash, leading us to waste products and money. 

So I urge you to spare a thought for that attention-starved lipstick that you impulse bought six months ago and has since been lying dormant in your makeup drawer. You may just find yourself seeing it with new eyes after some time apart. With that said, make sure it’s not expired: As a rule of thumb, products have a shorter lifespan if they contain a lot of moisture or if they’re mainly used around the eyes. Liquid foundation and concealer are typically good for six months to one year, while powder-based products are good for up to two years. Lipstick and lip gloss are good for one year, eyeshadow is good for three to six months, and mascara has a short three-month lifespan. 

Despite makeup having a quiet moment, the sales of other self-care products have notably been on the rise. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, global sales of products like luxury hand soap, candles and aromatherapy, and hair-, nail- and skincare products have seen increases of 300%-800% since March. This is not surprising; it’s natural in times of stress to turn toward outlets that are relaxing. After all, what better way to escape the state of the world than letting your mind drift away while you’re wearing a sheet mask? 

Credit: cottonbro//Pexels

Skin care is notorious for being pricey, but it’s absolutely possible to use skin care as self-care in a way that won’t break the bank. Sheet masks, in particular, are a cheap yet effective way to pamper yourself. Some of my favorites are by Peach Slices, which are widely available in many CVS locations. Also, remember that self-care is not necessarily about a product’s brand or price point, but rather how it makes you feel. As you apply a serum or cream, take note of its properties: viscosity, texture, scent (which should be minimal to none, to avoid risk of irritation), color, and finish (does it leave your skin matte or dewy?). Luxuriate in the process of pouring or scooping the product onto your hands and massaging it onto your skin. Breathe in, breathe out. This is skin care as self-care.

As soothing as skin care can be for mental health, there’s another reason why folks are paying more attention to their skin lately. As society has pivoted to a new normal of wearing masks in public spaces, you may have noticed that masks are often not the friendliest to our skin, especially for people who have to wear them for long periods of time, like those who work long shifts. 

There are two main reasons why you may be experiencing breakouts from masks: First, wearing a mask (properly!) creates an occlusive, humid environment around the lower half of your face that can trap dirt and oil. Second, the mask itself may be rubbing against and irritating your skin, especially if the mask is made of a synthetic material like nylon, polyester or rayon, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Fear not; here are several ways to stay safe and healthy without wreaking havoc on your skin. 

1. Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Moisturizer can help prevent irritation from masks by keeping your skin balanced and protected. Dermatologist Carrie L. Kovarik, MD, FAAD advises looking for moisturizers that contain ceramides, hyaluronic acid and/or dimethicone, which create a barrier between your skin and the mask. Be mindful of the type of moisturizer you use, as well. While rich creams are ideal for dry skin types, people with oily skin will want to go for a gel moisturizer that won’t cause their skin’s oil production to go into overdrive under a mask. 

2. Exfoliate With Care
With mask acne usually comes acne scars, and one of the most effective ways to fade acne scars is through chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Glycolic acid is a popular AHA, and salicylic acid is one of the most common BHAs used in treating acne. Whatever you choose, it’s best to use them at night, for two reasons: One, chemical exfoliants already make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, and two, they can cause irritation if your skin isn’t used to them, which may be exacerbated by irritation from masks if applied during the day. 

3. Drop the Base
It may be hard to shake the habit of slapping on some foundation before heading out the door. But when you’re wearing a mask, the moist environment underneath is more likely to lead to clogged pores. Think of how it feels to wear foundation on a stifling, humid summer day. If you still want some coverage, try spot-concealing specific areas instead of applying a base all over.

4. Don’t Slack on Sunscreen
“Half of my face is covered by a mask, so there’s no point in wearing sunscreen!” If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking these words, think again. While masks do offer some degree of sun protection — about SPF 7 — that’s not nearly enough, and half your face is still completely exposed. The AAD recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30; this is especially critical if you’re using a chemical exfoliant or a retinol, which makes your skin more vulnerable to sun damage. Your future self will thank you!

These are fragile and fraught times, and it’s so important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. It’s not always easy to do both or even one of those, and success in that regard will look different for everyone. But finding solace in my beauty routine has always helped to keep me grounded — and I hope the same can be done for you. 

Cover photo credit: Karolina Grabowska//Pexels


  • Tori Smith is the Beauty Editor at Mochi magazine and the editorial assistant at Quartz. She was previously the administrative manager at Truth Revolution Records, and studied classical piano at The Crane School of Music. Adopted from South Korea, she currently lives in New York City and is actively involved with the thriving adoptee community there.

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