As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, Americans are continuing to make sacrifices for the betterment and health of themselves, their families, and their communities. Whether it's sheltering-in-place, foregoing a vacation, or wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, life definitely has been altered due to the ongoing global pandemic. Some changes are big, some are small, and some can do some serious damage to your skin. Yes, I’m talking about mask acne — the little whiteheads and pustules that can end up dotting your chin and cheeks after consistently wearing a mask during the hot summer months.
“There has been a surge in patience flaring with acne since March, and continuing,” Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York City, tells Woman's Day. “We’ve dubbed this new rise in acne ‘maskne,’ due to the likely etiology of mask-use in triggering the skin condition.”
What causes "maskne"?
While the stress of living through an unprecedented global pandemic can, all on its own, cause breakouts, "maskne" zits are brought on by something a little more mechanical. “Maskne is a type of acne mechanica, which is acne triggered by friction or rubbing on the skin,” Nazarian explains. “The chronic pressure on the skin induces the development of tender, red acne bumps on the skin under the mask.”
During the summer, the weather causes even more issues for the skin under your mask. “The addition to heat, increased humidity from our breath on our skin, and bacteria from our mouths can also add to the risk factors that cause acne,” Dr. Nazarian says. Humidity and high temperatures on their own can cause acne flare-ups, especially if you’re prone to oily skin in the warmer months. “There’s a certain ‘aligning of the acne stars,’ with so many acne-causing influences happening at the same time,” Dr. Nazarian explains.
But acne isn’t the only issue caused by the combination of the heat and your mask. “Aside from acne, we’re seeing irritant dermatitis from sweat accumulation on the skin, rosacea flares from the heat and bacteria, and even inflammation of the small hairs called folliculitis, among other skin conditions,” Dr. Nazarian says.
How is "maskne" treated?
“Use a gentle, anti-inflammatory cleanser to prevent over-drying of the skin, and apply a nightly product containing acne-fighting acne ingredients,” Dr. Nazarian says. “Lightweight, oil-free moisturizers are also ideal to prevent trapping more heat, which is what can happen if you used oil-based or heavier moisturizers.” So even if you don’t tend to have oily skin, an oil-free moisturizer may be your best bet right now.
Dr. Nazarian suggests gentle cleansers, such as Proactiv Green Tea Foaming Cleanser and Cetaphil, for morning and night. “Proactive MD is a great option for a nightly acne treatment,” she adds. “The active ingredient is adapalene, a retinoid that can decrease acne breakouts over time and improve skin texture and tone.”
For moisturizers, Dr. Nazarian suggests oil-free products, like La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Cream and Cetaphil Lotion. “Be diligent about your skincare regimen, too,” she says. “And remember that it takes time to see improvement when you first begin a new regimen. Typically, it take six weeks to see improvement.”
It is also important to wash your masks daily to prevent a buildup of bacteria and sweat on your skin. This is especially true if you wear makeup under your mask. Your concealer, blush, or foundation can rub off and bring bacteria with it, negating all of your skincare efforts. Softer fabrics are also better for skin irritation, so if you can find something a little more gentle, then go for it. Researchers are continuing to study which masks are effective, so consider purchasing masks that will be the most beneficial, too.
Masks are likely going to be a part of our lives for the near future, but that doesn’t mean "maskne" has to be.
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