Not only has COVID-19 impacted our emotional, financial and social lives, pandemic life has also messed with our skin – leading to the emergence of something known as ‘maskne’. Referring to acne caused by – you guessed it – protective mask wear, maskne is a very real, very 2020 problem. And according to dermatologists, it’s occurring around the globe.
The subject of countless online beauty chats, maskne might seem unavoidable. However, with a little extra care, following health advice and masking up shouldn’t have to come at a price to your skin! This go-to guide to preventing and managing maskne will help get your complexion back in the clear.
Why mask wear can cause maskne – and other skin issues
Both reusable and disposable masks can cause isolated pimples and larger breakouts, while also exacerbating existing acne, and there are two main reasons for this. The first is to do with physics – specifically the friction that arises when a mask rubs against the skin. Acne can appear as a result of this mechanical friction, and when it does it is known as acne mechanica.
The second cause of potential breakouts is the hothouse environment a mask can create. The combination of sweat, sebum, dirt and bacteria trapped under the mask (or remaining on a mask that hasn’t been effectively cleaned) can lead to congestion and acne. This is especially an issue for those with oily and spot-prone skin, with the problem compounded by a humid climate or soaring summer temperatures.
Aside from acne, mask wear can cause a range of other skin irritations. Friction from snug-fitting masks can cause sensitivity, redness, chafing and general irritation – particularly with prolonged wear. We’ve all seen our healthcare heroes revealing their raw, bruised mask-marked skin on Instagram – and we salute them for their tireless service.
If you’re experiencing redness and discomfort that’s not associated with maskne, you could also potentially be having an allergic reaction. This could be due to your mask’s fabric, processing chemicals (if it’s disposable), or even the washing detergent you’re using. Mask wear can also lead to perioral dermatitis – a rash of small red bumps around the mouth.
Got Maskne? Changing your reusable mask could help
While groups including healthcare workers, those with underlying health conditions and individuals over 60 are advised by the World Health Organization to wear medical-grade masks, reusable fabric face masks are the go-to for most. According to the Victorian Department of Health & Human Services, these cloth masks should ideally be made of three layers of a mix of breathable fabrics.
Speaking strictly from a skincare perspective, breathable fabrics like cotton are ideal as they help prevent masks from becoming damp. They are less likely than non-breathable fabrics to create a warm, moist breeding ground for acne-triggering bacteria.
Your maskne action plan
So now you know what maskne is, you’re probably wondering how you can combat it, or even avoid it altogether. Straightforward and easy to follow, these steps will stand you in good stead.
Wash your hands, face & mask!
As with tackling run-of-the-mill acne, good hygiene is the first step required to fight maskne. This means touching your face as little as possible (and only with clean hands!) and resisting the urge to pick pesky blemishes. It also means cleansing away excess oils and impurities in the morning and again – crucially – as soon as you’ve ditched the mask when you return home for the day. But make sure you don’t over-cleanse either, or you’ll strip your skin of vital moisture and actually trigger oil production.
Good hygiene also extends to the mask itself, and this means washing your cloth mask after each wear.
Cleanse or spot-treat with salicylic acid
If you’re already using products for oily or acne-prone skin, continue to use them and make sure you’re consistent. If you’re not but you’re experiencing breakouts? Try introducing salicylic acid. With a powerful pore unplugging action, this beta-hydroxy acid is a popular acne-fighting ingredient, formulated into a wide range of skincare products.
Why exactly is it so great? Well, while harsh manual exfoliants damage the skin and have the potential to spread bacteria, salicylic acid cuts through oil to penetrate the pores and exfoliate from within. By purging the pores it helps prevent the blockages that can lead to inflammation, infection and those unwanted facial eruptions (aka, pimples).
If you’re experiencing sudden breakouts, try adding a BHA Cleanser to your routine for a deep, strong clean and gentle microexfoliation. Cleansing is a gentle way to introduce the use of salicylic acid as it’s on the skin for a limited time only, so it limits any potentially drying effects. Use our A Mean Clean once a day to start with, increasing the frequency to twice daily once tolerated.
For more targeted acne-fighting action, and to quickly resolve breakouts, apply a salicylic acid toner directly to affected areas. Try our Dissolve And Solve – which contains 4% salicylic acid to quickly dissolve blockages.
Swap manual exfoliants for chemical ones
Regular exfoliation is an important part of any skincare routine. But it’s especially important if you’re prone to congestion, blackheads and pimples. Or experiencing a sudden case of maskne!
As we’ve already mentioned, we’re no great fan of manual exfoliators. Instead, we recommend using a leave-on chemical exfoliant (i.e. an acid serum with AHAs and/or BHA) a few times a week to gently but effectively shed dead skin cells. Not only does this promote a smooth, refined complexion, it also helps keep pores clear of the debris that can result in acne. We recommend Shed the Dead, our liquid exfoliant.
(However, you should take care introducing a liquid exfoliant product to your regime if your skin is already irritated from protective mask wear.)
Switch up your moisturiser & sunscreen
Keeping your skin hydrated is important to reduce mask friction and keep breakouts at bay. However, product choice is key. If you’re experiencing recurring acne, you might benefit from switching to a lighter-weight, oil-free moisturiser. In Dermaenergy White Label, this means reaching for Light As a Feather, which helps keep skin clear with antibacterial silver and mattifying Evermatt.
And if your skin is still dehydrated while using a light moisturiser? Boost hydration levels and comfort with a hyaluronic acid serum.
Daily wear of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is still essential when wearing a face mask, but you need to make sure you choose well. This means selecting a sunscreen that is non-comedogenic (non-pore clogging). Oily skins may also benefit from an oil-free, chemical-free sunblock with anti-shine ingredients.
Pare back your skincare & makeup
When your skin is breaking out, it’s probably not the time to introduce too many new ingredients or products. Simplicity – and salicylic acid – is key.
It’s also best not to cake on the makeup and instead to let your skin breathe as much as possible. Foundation is just one more layer that could potentially clog those pores. It will also rub straight onto your mask, so skip it when you can. Or, at the very least, make sure you remove it thoroughly when you’re back at home!
Soothe irritation & strengthen skin with Niacinamide
For skin that’s red and uncomfortable, look to niacinamide (Or Vitamin B3). Helping to strengthen the skin’s barrier, this soothing skincare hero – present in our Calm The Harm – can also boost skin immunity and reduce redness. An ideal ingredient in any anti-acne regime, it helps to prevent post-acne pigmentation, while also regulating oil flow.
Please note that the above is general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. Please see your Skin Care professional, Cosmetic Physician, Nurse, Dermatologist or GP for personalised advice if your maskne, or any form of skin irritation, persists.