Since the CDC announced that face-coverings prevent the spread of COVID-19, the face mask has become pretty ubiquitous, from the aisles of your neighborhood grocery store to the ads on your Instagram feed. As soon as top fashion brands got in on it, we quickly began to see how masks might become the world’s healthiest “trend.” What most of us didn’t see coming, though, are the not-so-nice sides of wearing a mask: overheating, foggy glasses, and most irritatingly, maskne. In case you didn’t guess already, maskne (a mashup of mask + acne) is acne triggered by wearing a face mask. As frustrating as it is -- to be clear -- we’ll take maskne any day over the coronavirus. But if we play our cards right, we can protect ourselves from both.
What Causes Maskne?
Face mask breakouts happen to the best of us. No, really -- if you’re wearing a mask, you’re doing the right thing! So, why are you getting punished? Well, for one, the friction of fabric or paper against your skin causes irritation and inflammation. Add that to the fact that masks trap dirt, oil, and bacteria beneath them and promote a sweaty, moist environment, thanks to your breath. So, it’s no wonder you’re bound to experience breakouts, if not flare-ups of rosacea, pressure sores, and eczema, too. This is especially the case for medical professionals who wear N95 masks, which press tightly against the skin for hours on end -- but even surgical and non-medical masks are capable of upsetting your precious skin. The good news is you can still wear a mask and kick acne to the curb.
How Can You Treat Mask Acne?
It’s not too late! Whether you’re wearing a medical-grade mask or you’re wrapped up in a bandana, we feel your pain. But there are plenty of ways to show maskne who’s boss.
Wash Your Face
While you should always wash your face twice a day, this is especially important when you’re wearing a face covering. The warm, humid environment created by a mask can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other microbes. The cleaner your face is to start with, the less bacteria will be there to multiply. Then, when you take the mask off, be sure to wash well to remove any sweat and germs that have made their way onto your skin. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, try using a cleanser that contains salicylic acid or charcoal, which absorb oil and help clear out clogged pores. If you’re pressed for time or working long shifts in a mask, you may want to keep some blemish and oil control wipes in your bag to cleanse on the go. And lastly, if you have sensitive skin, cleansers or wipes containing elemental sulphur are a great alternative.
Trade the Cloth Mask for a Clay Mask
...Once you’re safe at home, of course. Clay is a wonderful natural purifying agent that can dry up pimples, draw out blackheads, and absorb excess oil. It has been used for centuries as a form of skin healing. There are endless different clay masks on the market -- or you can DIY with the original cult favorite Aztec Healing Clay. Mix the powder with water and a bit of honey to enhance the soothing antibacterial effect. Just be careful not to overdo it, as using clay on the skin too often can strip the skin barrier, which ironically can result in breakouts all over again. Stick to only one to three times a week, max.
Cool It Down
Masked skin is hot, irritated, and inflamed, which makes it prime real estate for breakouts and a slew of other issues. One way to reverse the condition is to chill it out with an ice roller, ice globes, or even a cryo-facial system like the SiO Cryo System, which contains a refreshing Energy Serum and a complementary Cryodrop tool. Together they deliver cold therapy combined with the benefits of massage to visibly shrink pores, reduce redness, and ease puffiness due to acne and other forms of inflammation, too. Your skin will be cool, calm, collected, and ready to face a new day.
Just as you might treat any kind of zit, mask pimples can be addressed with your usual medicine cabinet acne treatment, such as a salicylic acid gel or benzoyl peroxide cream. For highly inflamed or irritated breakouts, hydrocortisone cream can reduce inflammation, as well. Just be careful, as your skin is likely to be sensitive and irritated already from the friction of wearing a mask. Spot treatments meant for acne may exacerbate any dryness and irritation. Use over-the-counter products (prescription may be too strong unless specifically prescribed by your doctor for this condition). Treat the affected areas only, and don’t apply more than a couple of times a day, or as directed.
Stick On a Pimple Patch
One perk of wearing a face mask and suffering from acne at the same time? No one will see your pimple treatments hiding underneath. Enter our new favorite quick fix: the hydrocolloid patch, otherwise known colloquially as the “pimple patch.” Hydrocolloid dressings have been used for many years in the medical industry, but they’ve recently caught on as an effective pimple-fighting solution, as they draw out fluid and impurities, while also protecting the blemish so it can heal undisturbed. No one will know your little secret. Well, not until your lunch break, at least.
See the Dermatologist
Most dermatologists are offering both in-person and virtual appointments now, so you can see a doctor safely for a thorough consultation regarding any skin issues you may be experiencing. Dermatologists are reporting large numbers of complaints regarding maskne, especially among healthcare workers, so they’re well-equipped to address your concerns. So, if at-home treatments aren’t doing the trick, it’s always worth checking in to get a professional opinion.
How to Prevent Future Breakouts from Face Masks
The best way to prevent maskne is to keep your face as clean as possible at all times. That means cleansing often and avoiding makeup as much as you can. If you’re sourcing a non-medical mask or making your own, look for breathable silk or 100% cotton; synthetic materials tend to trap heat and encourage irritation. And lastly, don’t forget to wash your mask in hot water or throw it away (if disposable) after every single use. Not only is it crucial for preventing the spread of disease, but it will spare your skin from acne-causing bacteria, too.
The Last Word
Maskne is a small price to pay for your health and safety. That being said, you don’t have to accept it as par for the course! Wear your mask whenever you’re in a public place but be sure to let your skin breathe whenever you can do so safely. A little skincare can go a long way, too. Wash your face before and after wearing a mask, apply a spot treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to any active blemishes, and practice preventative care by washing your mask after every use. If all else fails, see your dermatologist. We’re in this together.