On top of the anxiety and stress that we all feel during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the last things we want right now is for acne breakouts to start popping up out of nowhere.
Because we’ve been experiencing major changes in our normal routines, one of those changes being we are now required to wear a face mask in public, our skin is prone to react negatively.
“Maskne,” or acne caused by wearing facial masks, is another new term to add to our vocabularies while navigating life during the pandemic.
It’s a very real thing, unfortunately, and it’s been affecting many people, especially those working on the front lines who have to wear masks for prolonged periods.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t all susceptible to this type of acne, however.
Experts are stating that even people who typically haven’t struggled with acne before are experiencing problems now.
That can be so frustrating, especially when there are so many other stressors affecting us right now.
You might be asking yourself, so what causes “maskne”, and how can I avoid it?
There’s no need to worry because we’ve got everything that you need to tackle this “maskne” issue.
To better understand this phenomenon, we’re going to look into these questions:
What exactly is “maskne”?
How can I prevent “maskne”?
How can I treat “maskne” if I’m already experiencing symptoms?
While the regulations to wear face masks in public are ultimately for our own safety, we also want to make sure we’re taking care of our skin underneath the masks to avoid any pain or discomfort.
And the better prepared we are, the less we’ll have to worry about “maskne” creeping up on us.
What exactly is “Maskne”?
“Maskne” is an overarching term used to describe the irritation, rashes, acne, and redness that results from wearing a face mask. These breakouts occur because the face mask covers our nose and mouth, which allows air and humidity to get trapped inside and clogs our pores with dirt, sweat and oil. The result is similar to acne type that is common among athletes, known as acne mechanica. For athletes, acne mechanica can form from excess heat, friction, and sweat that builds up underneath equipment like football helmets, padding and straps. Similarly, masks are trapping air and heat, so the skin around the nose and mouth becomes warm and moist, which creates the perfect breeding ground for acne to flare up. There’s also a chance for yeast and bacteria to form and infect the hair follicles in this area, causing folliculitis. In addition to pores being clogged and breakouts forming beneath the mask, the edges of the mask that are rubbing against the skin can cause pore blockage, dark spots, inflammation, dry patches, and peeling. The areas where the mask is fitted tightly against the skin, such as over the bridge of the nose and across the cheeks, are most susceptible to this form of irritation. Not only are we putting a foreign garment over our faces that we weren’t used to before, but most of us are spending a lot of time sitting at home, touching our faces more, and have been eating unhealthy snacks. All of these factors, accompanied by stress and anxiety about the pandemic, could be influencing acne breakouts, which are only agitated further by putting on a mask.
Since the face mask regulation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future, we have to think of ways to prevent these types of breakouts from stealing any more joy from us during this time.
And the good news is, there are lots of ways to avoid “maskne” altogether.
How can I prevent “maskne”?
There are many tips that we can keep in mind when it comes to avoiding unnecessary breakouts and discomfort that could come with wearing a mask.
Most are simple yet effective.
Keep reading to find out how you can save yourself from “maskne”!
Aim for cloth masks. While N95 and surgical masks are the most effective type of mask, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that these masks should be reserved for healthcare workers. For public use, the general recommendation is to use cloth masks. According to a study conducted by an air filter company named Smart Air, the best material to fashion homemade masks out of is 100% cotton. This is because cotton provides the right balance between breathability and protection, as well as being gentle on the skin. The study also reveals that materials like scarves and bandanas were not as effective, and denim and canvas were too irritating to the skin.
Keep a rotation of clean masks. It’s a good idea to keep a rotation of at least three to five masks so that you’ll always have one available while others are being cleaned. An added bonus of using a cloth mask is that they’re easy to wash in between uses. You should aim to wash cloth masks as often as possible to remove excess dirt and bacteria, both for your own protection purposes and for eliminating chances of “maskne” breakouts. Disposable masks are also a viable option, but only if they’re correctly taken care of in-between wears. It is recommended to air out these masks in an area that’s clean and well-ventilated, while also only re-wearing up to 3 times.
Use fragrance-free laundry detergent. When washing cloth masks, try to stick to fragrance-free laundry detergent. Fragrances within the fabric can be irritating on the skin, and could potentially lead to irritant dermatitis. Keep an eye out for detergents that are free of irritants and fragrances to avoid putting anything on your face that could cause an adverse reaction. Check out these products!
Wash your face before and after wearing a mask. You want to be sure that you’re putting your mask over a clean face to avoid trapping excess oil and dirt, and that you’re washing away everything that has built up at the end of the day. In your nighttime skin care routine try the double cleanse method; cleanse skin with an oil and then daily cleanser or just use your cleanser twice in a row. You can also try at-home treatments like facial masks and steamers. Dermatologists recommend using a gentle cleanser with salicylic acid that isn’t too drying on the skin but will be useful in clearing pores. Remember that everyone has unique skin types, and cleansers should suit your own individual needs for your skincare routine.
Use a moisturizer. Be sure to use a good moisturizer after cleansing your face to keep your skin hydrated and build up a protective barrier between your skin and the mask. Dermatologists recommend using lightweight moisturizers, preferably with anti-acne ingredients such as retinol and nano-sulfur. For areas like the bridge of the nose and central cheeks that may have been broken down from irritation, a thicker emollient like Aquaphor or Vaseline can be applied to build back the barrier and provide lubrication between the skin and the mask. A good tip is to keep a moisturizer on you at all times so you can apply it throughout the day between mask-wearing sessions.
Avoid makeup. This might not be exactly what you want to hear, but it’s definitely best to skip the makeup when it comes to wearing a mask. Makeup can clog pores under the barrier of the mask, leading to breakouts. It also leaves residue and soils the material of your mask so you won’t be able to preserve it as long. You might be hesitant to ditch the makeup, but trust me, it will be so worth it, and your skin will thank you!
Give yourself a breather. If you have the chance to step away from other people and take a break or if you’re in the car, it’s okay to take a breather and remove the mask for a bit. Just be sure to sanitize your hands before carefully removing your mask. Not only are you giving your skin a chance to breathe, but you’re also airing out your mask for further use, or you can switch it out for a clean one. It can be easy in the midst of a long day to forget to give ourselves breaks, but this one is essential for giving yourself and your skin a chance to feel refreshed.
Consider using a jade stone roller. Using a jade stone roller after wearing a mask can help to soothe the skin and reduce swelling of the skin around the mask borders. There are tons of benefits to using jade stone rollers, and there’s no better time to treat yourself to a little healing massage than after wearing an uncomfortable mask all day
How can I treat “maskne” if I’m already experiencing symptoms?
If you’re someone that has already been experiencing the symptoms of “maskne,” I encourage you to implement the prevention tips above.
Still, it’s definitely a good idea to work on fixing your existing breakouts in a healthy way.
Be gentle on the skin. A lot of times, the second we notice a breakout on our faces, we might go overboard with intense scrubbing and cleansing. However, this could accidentally lead to further irritation of the skin. It’s best to be gentle on the skin and avoid using harsh treatment products before wearing a mask. Products like benzoyl peroxide that are geared toward treating acne can become more irritating beneath a mask. It’s best to use less of these types of products when you know you’ll be wearing a mask for an extended time.
Consider prescription medications. If your breakouts have become more persistent and severe, some medications could be prescribed to you by a dermatologist. You don’t want to ignore the severity of your symptoms because persistent irritation or contact dermatitis could lead to long-term skin-damaging effects. If it seems like your skin is just not improving after trying multiple ways to treat it, don’t be afraid to consult a doctor and ask about prescription medication.
Ice the skin. If you’re experiencing a lot of redness and swelling after removing your face mask, you can ice the skin for a few minutes at a time using a couple ice cubes in a bag or frozen peas. Be sure to place a paper towel between the bag and your skin to avoid further damage. After icing, you can use a tiny amount of 1% hydrocortisone cream to help with the inflammation. Make sure you only use a small amount when necessary, and you’re not overusing the cream. Overuse could potentially cause your skin to thin out, leading to more breakouts.
Switch to non-comedogenic products. When it seems like we’re noticing more breakouts than usual, one of our first instincts is to look into switching up our products. Whatever type of skincare product you’re looking to switch out, whether it’s your moisturizer, makeup, cleanser, etc., keep an eye out for non-comedogenic products.
Hopefully, you aren’t feeling too worried now about “maskne". These are unusual times that we’re living in, so of course, unexpected things might start happening to our skin! The good news is there are so many ways to prevent and treat “maskne”, so you won’t feel hopeless if you start noticing some breakouts flaring up. It’s also good to know that you’re not alone! So many of us, no matter what our age is, still battle occasional acne breakouts, and it’s nothing to feel ashamed about.
For all of those out there who are wearing masks every single day, working hard on the front lines, and prioritizing the safety of so many, thank you so much for being the heroes you are.
It can’t be easy to work all day in that environment, especially wearing a mask the whole time.
Hopefully, this article relieved a little bit of stress and pressure from all of us who are struggling to adapt to the changes in our everyday lives. And to those who are tired of masking up because of the persistent skin problems you’re facing, hang in there.
We can get through this together.
Remember that every regulation is for our own safety, and while masks may not always be the most comfortable, there are ways to make it better.