If there’s one constant that I see in our existence for a very long time, it’s face masks. As in the face coverings that came screeching into most of our lives in 2020 to cover our mouth and nose against inhaling or exhaling disease-causing micro-organisms.
Unfortunately, though, these face masks also bring with them a host of skin problems (not to mention fogged up glasses), primarily acne.
So, like a lot of new things that we are learning nowadays, mask-related acne has to be managed as well.
And that protective mask has not gone away fully — and won’t for the foreseeable future. Because, somewhere, in some situation or the other, the fear of infections still lurks even though the mask mandate has been dropped.
If the pandemic has taught us one things, its never say never.
So, to use an old cliche, let’s just call it the new normal and find the best ways to deal with mask use and this new skin condition it has brought up.
And here’s your game plan for doing so easily and effectively, without sacrificing on safety.
Do face masks really cause acne?
Yes, they do.
In fact, face mask related acne is now becoming so common that the phenomenon has earned its own moniker: Maskne (mask acne).
To begin with, talking and breathing into a face mask traps a lot of heat and humidity between our skin and the mask.
This can alter the skin’s pH, making it more susceptible to bacterial growth — aka P.Acnes, the bacteria that causes the type of red, inflamed cystic acne that hurts like crazy and can become chronic.
Face masks can also cause a lot of friction against the skin, making it sensitive and stepping up on facial oil production, along with issues like contact dermatitis.
And if the mask is dirty, it will also lead to clogged pores, which are a breeding ground for not just acne but a whole lot of other skin problems.
So, how to prevent maskne?
When wearing face masks is not an option, how does one avoid or manage the associated skin issues?
Choose the right type of protective face mask
Disposable masks are the best option. With a single-use mask, you are wearing a fresh, clean mask every time, so there’s no residual oil or grime coming in contact with your skin.
The next best option are cloth masks — especially cotton masks or silk masks.
Both cotton and silk are soft fibers, which cause less friction against the skin.
These are also very breathable fabrics, which helps cut down on the buildup of heat and humidity.
Keep your face mask clean
If you’re wearing reusable masks, make sure you wash them at least every couple of days with a fragrance-free detergent.
A dirty mask is literally a breeding ground for acne.
And artificial dyes or fragrances can further irritate the skin with prolonged contact.
Re-think your skincare routine
Whatever your skin type, it’s important to take a long, deep look look at the skincare products you have in regular rotation.
Revisit your face cleansing routine
Proper cleansing is your skin’s ally in the best of times and right now it’s critical!
You need to wash your face at least twice a day, or every time you wear protective face masks for long periods of time.
Look for a salicylic acid based face wash, which can go deep into the pores to purge them of breakout-causing oils, dirt and dead cells.
Bonus points if you can add a clay mask to your skin regime twice a week (try Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask or the Fenty Skin Cookies N Clean Whipped Clay Pore Detox Face Mask with Salicylic Acid + Charcoal), which is great for clearing out the pores of all debris and preventing maskne.
Look for an oil-free moisturiser
It’s tempting to skip the moisturiser to cut down on greasiness, especially if you have oily skin.
However, this will only make your skin overcompensate by producing even more oils, which will take you down the acne breakouts route much faster.
Instead, look for oil-free versions — like Tatcha’s The Water Cream or Dr. Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Oil-Free Moisture Cushion — to avoid development of acne.
Go fragrance-free with your cosmetics
A lot of products that contain fragrance can cause skin irritation, even if you are not wearing a face mask. This is especially true if you already have acne-prone skin.
So, switch to a fragrance-free moisturizer and skip the harsh products.
Look after your skin’s natural barrier
With the mask constantly rubbing against your skin, it’s going to gradually wear away your skin barrier (the outermost layer of skin that keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out).
When this happens, skin becomes more vulnerable to infections, inflammation, itching, flakiness and atopic dermatitis.
To prevent, dial down on active ingredients like retinol, and use more healing, barrier-reinforcing ones like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, peptides and ceramides.
Rethink your makeup routine
When makeup gets trapped under the skin’s surface in a hot and humid micro-climate (like the one under your mask!) it’s a fast road to clogged pores and consequent breakouts.
Absolutely cannot skip the makeup? Use oil-free and non-comedogenic ranges and wash off diligently as soon as you get home.
Stock up on blotting sheets
These are excellent for blotting up skin oils through the day and give your pores some breathing space. Result? Lesser acne flare-ups. My absolute favorite ones are Tatcha’s Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Papers.