Maskne seems to be the latest mutation in the portmanteau pandemic that started with innocuous mixing of words like infodemic. The use of masks is recommended by health organizations like the WHO and the CDC when social distancing isn’t possible. While COVID-19 has convinced more people in North America to use masks, culture, and familiarity still create a significant gap in mask use compared to Asian countries. Many people who are unfamiliar with mask use are now finding that acne is becoming a problem. What can we do to prevent acne breakouts from mask use?
What is Maskne?
Can masks trigger an acne breakout? Absolutely. Wearing a mask can trap moisture and sweat which can lead to a build-up of oil on the skin. As mask use is becoming more common and mandatory in some cities and stores, we are starting to see signs of maskne. Covering your nose and mouth with a mask can trap moisture, sweat, saliva, and mucus, leading to a build-up of oil and secretions on the skin. Combined with the friction and pressure placed on the skin, this can result in significant irritation and even acne.
Some acne triggers may be related either directly or indirectly to mask use.
- Acne Mechanica
- Sweat, oil, dirt
- Stress and diet
Acne Mechanica is the primary driver behind maskne. Acne Mechanica is a common concern among athletes who wear helmets or other headgear in sports like hockey or football. Friction, heat, and other forms of mechanical stress on the skin is the cause of rashes and irritation, and end up blocking the pores and turn into acne. Although face masks are not nearly as restrictive as sportswear, if worn throughout the day, or too tight, it can leave the skin vulnerable. Healthcare workers are naturally prone to this type of acne as their masks are tight-fitting, and they have them on for longer hours.
Sweat, Oil, Dirt
Sweat, oil, and dirt can also clog the pores, and masks can worsen this. For people that naturally sweat a lot, masks can feel like a portable heater. While masks will help protect against exposure to dirt and grime, it can also trap heat and humidity, and induce sweat, leading to a build-up of oil
Stress and Diet
Stress and diet are secondary factors but do play a role in acne formation. COVID-19, not to mention any economic factors associated with it, is likely causing anxiety and stress. The mask itself can add to the problem. Wearing a mask can restrict breathing (although the effect is more psychological) and trigger a sense of claustrophobia in some people. It can take some time to get used to the breathing if you aren’t used to wearing masks. Diet isn’t directly related to masks, but many people are finding that their dietary habits have changed. It may be from eating at home more or working alternative hours.
How do I Combat Acne if I Wear a Mask?
While acne is still acne, there are some specific things that you can do to mitigate the effects of maskne. While most masks will not confer much protection to the wearer, it will still block some droplets. If you are a healthcare worker or work in an environment where you are near others, masks may be mandatory.
- Wash reusable masks frequently.
- Periodically remove your mask, and wash your face if possible.
- Consider the type of fabric of your masks.
Wash Reusable Masks Frequently
The first point is about hygiene. There are plenty of sweat glands where your mask covers. Reusing a face mask without washing it will undoubtedly contribute to acne formation. It is also unsanitary; it’s akin to reusing underwear without washing it. Remember to wash reusable masks after each use and avoid the reuse of single-use masks whenever possible.
Cleanse After Removing Mask
Second, when you’re able to remove the mask, wash your face, or use micellar water. It gives you a break and helps cool your face down as well. As long as we don’t overdo it, washing and cleansing the face is one of the most basic and effective ways to minimize acne, and it will help clear the build-up of sweat and oil. A moisturizer can also be applied half an hour before wearing a mask to help reduce any mask friction.
Choice of Masks
You might want to use a cotton mask, which allows your skin to breathe a little, especially during the warm summers. Many ordinary masks will still serve its primary function, which is to prevent the dispersing of droplets from the wearer of the mask.
Lastly, remember that the same advice that applies to general acne will also apply to mask-induced acne. Acne requires a cleansing routine, and effective treatment to control, as well as proper moisturization. There is no silver bullet to acne management, and you have to be diligent with your acne treatments.