No one expected face masks to be the must-have accessory of 2020, yet we now can't leave the house without one. While mask wearing is the best defense against COVID-19, it also brought along with it an inevitable skin concern.
You’ve probably heard the term “maskne” — an outbreak of pimples caused by wearing a mask. Coupled with humid weather and hot breath, it creates a hospitable environment for bacteria to grow. These breakouts often occur along the jawline, or anywhere the mask makes contact with the skin, trapping bacteria and dirt within our pores.
Here’s the good news: there are steps you can take to minimise flare-ups and treat existing maskne, while still protecting yourself and others by wearing a face covering. We reached out to Dr. Anna Hoo, the founder of Anna Hoo Clinic in Malaysia, to learn more about how how to treat and prevent this pesky skin issue.
L'OFFICIEL: What is maskne?
Dr. Anna Hoo: Technically, the clinical name for this kind of breakout is called acne mechanica. It may be new to the public but it’s a common term even before the pandemic, especially among professions that have to wear PPE all day and athletes wearing helmets and chin guards.
L'O: What exactly causes maskne?
AH: Maskne is caused by the rubbing and friction on the surface of the skin due to mask wearing. When the tiny hair follicles on our face become irritated from friction, which is further compounded with the moist and humid conditions underneath our masks, our skin becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Not only does the friction lead to micro-tears in the skin and clogged pores, the mask’s closed or occlusive environment and the absence of oxygen encourages growth of bacteria that feasts on the oil and dead skin on your face. This not only makes acne worse, but may also cause more severe conditions such as a reddish rash at the lower part of the face where your mask usually sits. Warm, humid weather, perspiration, and stress can upregulate all these effects.
L'O: How do you prevent Maskne?
AH: Practice good general mask-wearing habits such as avoiding re-wearing the same mask for too long, making sure your mask fits well, and trying to avoid moving your mask around too much to minimise friction. When you remove your mask, make sure to put it back on with the same side facing outwards.
Try to avoid wearing your mask for too long if you can, as it may have absorbed sweat, makeup, dirt, and bacteria. When contaminated, the microbes will grow into the weave of your mask fabric, and it will cause more acne. It’s also super important to wash your cotton mask and make sure it’s completely dried after every use.
Acne, including maskne, is best dealt with from a holistic perspective, which includes staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.
L'O: Should you change your skincare routine?
AH: Try not to go overboard, as too much experimenting can lead to skin irritation. Wash your face with gentle, hydrating cleansers if you don’t already and avoid heavily formulated products. It’s also important to moisturize regularly. Moisturizer does double duty here: besides hydrating the skin, it can protect it from mask friction. Take advantage of mask-free times of the day such as when you’re sleeping to apply a hydrating moisturiser.
Try to also limit the use of makeup when wearing a mask. Those who regularly apply foundation should consider going makeup free when wearing a mask, at least until the maskne clears up. Daily sunscreen is also still essential even if half your face is covered with a mask, and don’t forget to moisturise your lips with a gentle balm or serum.