So you’ve been doing your part- washing your hands rigorously, keeping a six-foot distance between yourself and others, and wearing a mask when you enter public spaces, ride public transit, or whenever you find yourself in a situation where physical distancing is not possible.
Over the last few weeks, however, you’ve begun to notice an unpleasant side effect of your scrupulous mask-wearing: acne. It’s popping up on your chin, around your mouth, and on your nose- what gives?
You are experiencing what experts refer to as “maskne”, the acne caused by wearing a face mask.
Maskne is not a new phenomenon, and has been the experience of anyone who works in a profession that requires daily prolonged mask-wearing, like nurses and doctors. In today’s coronavirus world, where the general public has to wear masks, the condition is on the rise.
Luckily, the problem is highly treatable, and is by no means an excuse to ditch the mask.
What Causes Maskne?
The main cause of acne comes down to the preferred environmental conditions for the bacteria and yeasts that can be found on your skin. These microscopic organisms love the humidity and thrive in warm, wet conditions. This is why, according to dermatologist Dr. Holly Glover, there tends to be an increase in certain types of acne during the summer months .
Masks seem to accelerate the problem. Whenever you talk or even just breathe, your mask traps a lot of hot air. This creates that warm, humid environment that bacteria love, which allows them to thrive and grow. This includes Demodex, a type of skin mite that lives naturally on our skin .
Dr. Amy Kassouf, MD, says that the resulting bacteria imbalances and friction from your mask can promote acne flare-ups, particularly around your mouth and nose. The stress from the pandemic can also contribute to an increase in acne .
“The main problem with the mask is the moisture that’s accumulating underneath the mask and because of that we’re seeing more acne, more bacterial infections, staff infections, even yeast infections,” says Glover .
Maskne is not the only problem being reported by regular mask-wearers. Other existing skin conditions can be aggravated or worsened by wearing a mask, including psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and rosacea.
Dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellet explained that these reactions can be caused by the friction created when the mask rubs against your face, a material in the mask that irritates your skin, or an allergy to a material in the mask .
How Can You Treat Maskne?
The first line of defence- and your most effective- is to prevent it altogether. Dr. Nazanin Saedi, MD, says that if you’re using a cloth mask, you should wash it daily. If you’re using disposable masks, replace them as often as possible or air it out between uses.
Dr. Kathleen C. Suozzi, MD says that if you begin to develop maskne, the most important thing to remember is to be gentle, because overdoing skincare can compromise your skin’s protective barrier.
Dr. Glover suggests using an over-the-counter acne product like salicylic acid cleansers or gels, or benzoyl peroxide cleaners or gels. It’s important to note that if you choose a product containing benzoyl peroxide, it will likely bleach or stain the fabric of your mask [1,2].
Another treatment option is to occasionally wash your face with a dandruff shampoo that contains ketoconazole or selenium sulfide, which can be calming for the skin and can counteract excess yeast buildup around the nose and mouth .
If you’re wondering whether lotions, creams, or sunscreens can help the situation or make it worse, the answer depends on how much you use. Dr. Kassouf says that a lotion or topical application like sunscreen can actually help balance your normal skin flora, when used in modest amounts.
“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,” she says .
That being said, a little goes a long way, and it is important to avoid thick layers of lotion or sunscreen, which could make breakouts worse even without the mask.
The same goes for makeup- a light layer can be worn under a mask, but thick applications should be avoided. For anyone who has to wear an N-95 mask, Dr. Kassouf recommends that you avoid wearing makeup underneath the mask altogether.
“Makeup stains may limit the ability to reuse it or fully clean it. In this case, you should avoid wearing makeup” .
If you find yourself in a position where you have to wear your mask for a prolonged period of time without an opportunity to wash your face, a simple toner with alpha hydroxy acid or witch hazel can freshen up your skin and help to quell breakouts .
Don’t Stop Wearing Your Mask
As irritating as it it, maskne is not an excuse to stop wearing your mask. When it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19, masks are our first line of defence, unless we want to return to the full lockdowns of March and April. Dr. Kassouf emphasizes that today, wearing a mask is crucial to our health and safety.
“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,” .
Of course, remember that whenever you are away from other people, you can always take your mask off to give yourself a breather- your skin will certainly thank you. Just make sure to do it only when it is safe, so you are not endangering the people around you.
Keep Reading: ‘I Don’t Want to Die Because You Don’t Like Masks’
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