Even before the WHO’s about-face on face coverings, the pandemic had already solidified 2020 as the year of the mask.

I’m talking about exactly what a time traveler from 2019 would think I was talking about: The kind of mask that comes in a neatly labeled glass jar from Seattle skincare brand French Girl—or from U Village Korean beauty retailer K Banana, infused with snail slime and tucked into a technicolor packet. The kind you slathered on one morning in March because you suddenly had time, access to all the beauty products in your medicine cabinet, and the freedom to join a conference call with cucumber slices on your eyelids. What the hell else were you going to do?

At its cutest, quarantine skincare was a hobby like any other that we picked up in those early days. (Remember when you were convinced you’d finally become a skilled cross-stitcher?) Our stay-home status allowed us “to take that time to get that care in,” says K Banana founder Liz Kang Yates. At its most practical, our new beauty regimen was a feverish response to the “maskne” we discovered hiding under our face coverings in the sweaty summer months.

But it was always more than that. We were trapped in the time warp of a life on pause, searching for ways to spend the hours we once filled with concerts or friends—or work, for over 500,000 King County residents who have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic. The routine of skincare became a lighthouse for normalcy, a way to mark the days as they passed. To check in with the reality of having a body.

Should we interrogate our impulse to smooth things over with an expensive new balm every time that body shows signs of living a life? Absolutely: Imagine not walking away from 2020 with a few stress zits and frown lines. But if cleansing our faces and moisturizing our skin gives us some semblance of control in a time of uncertainty—well, you know the rules. Mask up.

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