Health experts agree that wearing a mask is one of the healthiest and most responsible things we can do during the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, donning a face covering in public helps stop respiratory droplets from folks possibly infected with the disease from being spewed into the air, where they can be inhaled by healthy people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But with this necessary safety step, a new skin issue is, well, popping up: “maskne.” The name is pretty self-explanatory: acne caused by wearing a mask. While you may be surprised by the skin irritation, there are measures you can take to prevent or treat it to get your clear skin back.
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Maskne Is the Result of a Perfect Storm of Factors That Cause Acne
It’s distressing to start seeing spots pop up on your face again. “Masks can lead to acne breakouts for two main reasons. Direct friction promotes inflammation, which drives breakouts. Masks also promote breakouts indirectly by trapping moisture and allowing for overgrowth of microorganisms on the skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
When it comes to the first issue, friction, Dr. Zeichner points out that this is called “acne mechanica.” It’s a common problem among athletes. Active bodies are hot, sweaty bodies, and that increase in heat and moisture, combined with the rubbing of sports equipment or clothes on skin, creates an environment for acne to thrive, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
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You know you might have maskne if these breakouts appear near “the edge of the mask where the shield touches the skin and throughout the areas covered by the mask,” says Lucy Chen, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami.
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The Best Mask Material to Keep Acne at Bay
People in healthcare settings likely won’t have the choice of what type of mask they wear on the job. But if you have a choice and are going out in the community, then you have the opportunity to wear a mask made from a material that’s gentler on skin and won’t trap excess heat. That’s a 100 percent cotton mask, which is the most breathable, says Dr. Chen. Wash your mask daily to remove residue from sunscreen, skincare products, and makeup, as these can clog pores.
If you are wearing disposable masks, Chen suggests replacing them as frequently as you can. Also, “to alleviate some of the rubbing and friction, place silicon strips under the mask’s pressure points,” she adds.
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Skin-Care Tips That Can Help Prevent Maskne
Chen also recommends basic skin-care habits, such as washing your face morning and night with a gentle cleanser. Look for one that’s oil-, fragrance-, and sulfate-free. Apply a lightweight moisturizer (look for those that are more lotion-like than creamy) on top. If you are wearing the mask for a long period of time, avoid applying makeup in the mask area, too. No one can see that area, anyway.
One skin-care product that some dermatologists like is the skin mist PrimaSkin ($59.95, Primaskin.com). Marina Peredo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Skinfluence in New York City, recommends this to her patients who wear masks for long periods in the day. “We traditionally use it after laser treatments to encourage skin to heal faster. The active ingredient is glutathione, which is an antioxidant that the body naturally makes. I started using it because it has some antiviral properties that help skin fight infections,” she says. One study, in Frontiers in Immunology in September 2017, pinpointed the function of glutathione: It activates the body’s innate immune response, which is your first line against infection. The benefit to this refreshing mist is that you can spritz it on skin (so your hands don’t have to touch your face) and you can apply it midday over naked skin or atop sunscreen and makeup.
When possible, keep your mask off your face to give yourself a break. Remember to do this only if law (and responsible public health practices) allow, says Chen. For example: If you’re in your car or home by yourself or with members of your household, you do not have to wear a mask.
In the evening, consider applying a clay mask if your complexion tends to be oilier or irritation-prone. “Clay masks soothe skin and help absorb oil,” says Zeichner, who recommends Clean and Clear Night Relaxing Detox Clay Mask ($7.29, Walgreens.com).
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How to Effectively Treat Maskne if It Happens
Just like any acne, dermatologists advise you to keep your hands off of it and do not try to pop or squeeze. “This will only cause more damage to the skin and take longer to heal,” says Chen. If you feel a pimple coming on — that familiar feeling of something hurting under your skin — she recommends putting on a pimple patch. “These are thin hydrocolloid bandages that can be applied to impending breakouts. No one will see them under a mask anyway,” she says. One popular brand is Cosrx ($6, Ulta.com).
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Your maskne treatment strategy needs to involve some patience. “In a rush to get clear skin fast, people tend to go crazy with scrubs and face washes,” says Chen. A cleanser with salicylic acid will work to unplug pores. If you need a spot treatment, reach for a benzoyl peroxide cream with 2.5 to 5 percent concentration. One well-reviewed option is Paula’s Choice Extra Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment With 5 percent Benzoyl Peroxide ($19, Paulaschoice.com).
Chen also suggests smoothing on an oil- and fragrance-free moisturizer that contains hydrating ceramides, like CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($11.99, Ulta.com). A light serum with hyaluronic acid can furthermore boost moisture for any skin type, including those with acne, notes Proactiv.com. A top-seller at Ulta is The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 ($6.80, Ulta.com).
Finally, you’ll still want to wear a sunscreen when going out, and in this case, a mineral SPF can even help soothe your skin from irritation, says Zeichner. He recommends looking for one with the active ingredient zinc oxide. “Zinc oxide provides UV protection and actually has some skin-soothing benefits, which is why it’s used for babies as a diaper cream,” he says. One brand that Zeichner recommends is Solara Suncare Time Traveler Ageless Daily Facial Sunscreen ($42, Standarddose.com). Those with breakout-prone skin might also want to search for one labeled “noncomedogenic” (translation: unlikely to cause acne, per the AAD). With a little time and care, maskne doesn’t have to be inevitable.
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