Last Updated on July 13, 2020 by Manuel Yunus
With acne, none of us are truly in the clear.
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It can pop up during infancy. And if it didn’t make an appearance during puberty, it can catch up with us later on in life. It’s annoying at any stage but thankfully, there are ways to deal with acne when it starts to take over our face or body.
The new normal requires us to wear masks regularly and for longer periods of time in some cases. While we’re covering up our mouths and noses to stop the spread of COVID-19, some of us are uncovering a new problem — maskne, or mask-related acne.
Maskne is not an imaginary condition
While maskne might be new to many of us, it didn’t originate out of nowhere.
“It has always been an issue in professions where you have to wear a mask regularly,” says dermatologist, Amy Kassouf, MD. “But now that the general public has to wear masks, the incidence of it has certainly increased.”
Dr. Kassouf explains that stress from the pandemic, as well as the local irritation from your mask, can make maskne more likely.
The science behind maskne
When you breathe or talk, your mask tends to trap in a lot of hot air. Besides being annoying, this air creates a warm, humid environment — and an ideal setting for yeast, bacteria and other flora, such as demodex (types of skin mites that naturally live on our skin), to grow.
Dr. Kassouf says that these bacterial imbalances and friction from your mask can promote acne and rosacea flare-ups as well as something called perioral dermatitis. This is when fine pimples and pustules appear around the nose and mouth.
Can makeup, lotions or sunscreen make maskne worse?
You might assume that wearing these products under our masks can cause maskne to get out of control. That’s not always the case though. Dr. Kassouf says that lotion, topical treatments and sunscreen can help calm and balance our normal skin flora.
“A layer of moisturizer (lighter if you are oily or acne prone and thicker if you have sensitive or eczema-prone skin) or even a sunblock that contains zinc or titanium can help your skin by serving as a barrier against any friction or irritation that develops.”
Dr. Kassouf encourages you to keep in mind that thick layers of lotion or sunscreen on the face can aggravate breakouts with or without a mask, but occurs more easily when wearing one.
What about makeup?
Don’t worry. You don’t have to return your latest beauty haul to the store. Dr. Kassouf says makeup is fine as long as you’re not heavy handed during application.
“Under our normal masks, it’s acceptable to wear a light layer of makeup. If you are wearing an N-95 mask that will be recycled, makeup stains may limit the ability to reuse it or fully clean it. In this case, you should avoid wearing makeup.”
And can facial hair cause problems?
Guys, we know this process can be really tough on those majestic beards and mustaches. Facial hair can present a problem given the fit of the mask, the warm air that gets trapped under it and moisture from sweat. But there’s hope and help for you as well.
If you have to wear your mask for a long period of time and aren’t in a position where you can wash your face, Dr. Kassouf suggests using a simple toner with alpha hydroxy acid or even witch hazel to freshen your skin and prevent problems. Just make sure you allow your skin and beard to fully dry before putting your mask on.
Can certain mask fabrics cause maskne?
While lightweight fabrics might be better for your skin, they don’t quite offer the level of protection needed to block out COVID-19. Dr. Kassouf explains how mask fabrics factor into the equation.
“Lighter fabrics that are cooler and usually easier to breathe through are often the ones that don’t do a good job of filtering the virus in either direction. Tight weave fabrics and masks with several layers are the best protection. Some fabrics are softer and more flexible so they may be more comfortable. Washing the fabric or mask first to remove any finishes on the fabric can help reduce the possibility of irritation as well.”
Why you need to keep your mask clean
Changing your mask frequently can help reduce irritation, especially after sweating or exercising. After each use, Dr. Kassouf suggests washing your masks with a fragrance-free detergent, rinsing them twice and putting them in the dryer. Not only does washing your masks help make them more tolerable to wear, but this process is also very important for infection control.
How to treat maskne
According to Dr. Kassouf, a good foaming cleanser will help keep your skin clean and calm. If your skin is more acne-prone, she recommends looking for something with salicylic acid.
Occasionally washing your face with a dandruff shampoo that has ketoconazole or selenium sulfide in it can also be calming for the skin and help remove excess yeast buildup – especially around the nose and mouth.
It’s common for people to treat their maskne with products that contain benzoyl peroxide. If you go this route, just be aware that benzoyl peroxide may bleach or stain the fabric of your mask.
If you are prone to getting cold sores, Dr. Kassouf offers this advice. “The stress of the pandemic as well as the local irritation from your mask may make cold sores more likely right now. If they pop up, there are oral as well as topical treatments available by prescription or over the counter that can shorten the duration or even prevent them.”
While maskne can be aggravating, ditching your mask is not an option
Sure, wearing a mask can be tricky or just plain annoying. But when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19, a mask is your first line of defense.
Think of it this way. If you get maskne, a trip to the beauty counter, dermatologist or drug store can get you back on the road to Glow Town. If you end up with the coronavirus, your skin will be the least of your worries.
“Wearing a mask these days is of penultimate importance. By wearing your mask, you protect others and show respect for them. And in return, when others wear theirs, they protect you and show respect towards you,” says Dr. Kassouf.
Manuel is a health enthusiast, researcher and writer. Manuel began his writing career during his undergraduate days writing for the school magazine and rose to the position of Editor before graduation.