If there’s one constant that I see in our lives going on from here, it’s face masks. As in the masks that we all have to wear (mandatorily in most cities) to cover our mouth and nose against inhaling or exhaling disease-causing micro-organisms.
Even if you have avoided these often-awkward but extremely important facial coverings till now by staying in your house, as the lockdowns start to lift many of us shall have to venture out – for a while at least. And you don’t do that without a face mask for quite some time. Period.
Unfortunately, though, these face masks bring with them a host of skin problems (not to mention fogged up glasses), primarily acne. But this can’t be an excuse for ditching the mask because there’s so much more at stake here, during these COVID-19 ravaged times. So, like a lot of new things that we are learning nowadays, this has to be managed as well.
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.
To begin with, talking and breathing into a face mask traps a lot of heat 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 zits that hurt like crazy and can become chronic.
Face masks can also cause a lot of friction on the skin, making it sensitive, leading to contact dermatitis or even stepping up oil production.
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 proper mask: Disposable paper masks are the best option. This way, 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 is to wear a cloth mask – one that’s made from cotton fibres. Cotton is soft, which causes less friction against the skin. It’s also a very breathable fabric, which helps cut down on the buildup of heat and humidity. You can get some great ones on Etsy and that way you are also supporting small businesses.
Keep your mask clean: If you’re wearing a reusable cloth mask, make sure you wash it at least every couple of days with a gentle, dye- and fragrance-free soap. A dirty mask is literally a breeding ground for acne. And artificial dyes or fragrances can irritate the skin with prolonged contact.
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 a mask for prolonged 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 Bastide’s Purifying Clay Mineral Mask or Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Face Mask), 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. However, this will only make your skin overcompensate by producing even more oils, which will take you down the acne 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.
Look after your skin’s natural barrier: With the mask constantly rubbing against your skin, it’s going to gradually wear away your skin’s natural 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 and flakiness. To prevent, dial down on your active ingredients like retinol, and use more healing, barrier-reinforcing ones like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, peptides and ceramides.
Rethink your makeup: When makeup gets trapped 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. My absolute favorite ones are Tatcha’s Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Papers.
Have you suffered from maskne? What are your top tips for avoiding it?