With the rise of people around the world wearing face masks to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, people who struggled with keeping clear skin are faced with a new foe— maskne. Maskne is acne that begins to show up around the area where the person’s face mask rests on their skin.
To understand how maskne is different than normal acne, and what to do about maskne, we must first understand how (and why) acne itself is formed under normal circumstances.
How Is Acne Formed?
Acne is formed mainly when dead skin cells, bacteria, dirt, oil, and sweat get stuck inside the pores and hair follicles on someone’s face. The pores get clogged by sebum and skin cells which trap any dirt, oil, and bacteria inside the pore, causing it to swell to the bump we see on the skin.
Underneath the skin, the part of the pore we can’t see is also swollen with bacteria and other infection-causing debris, like dirt and sebum, our natural facial oil. This means that the pores are unable to get rid of the bacteria and gunk in the pore because the pore is clogged.
So, then the skin around the pore gets red as the body begins to fight the acne-causing bacteria stuck inside. This is a sign of an infection.
There are other forms of acne like blackheads, which is when a pore is open and clogged. The gunk (sebum and skin cells,) are visible and oxidized, causing the black dots that we can see.
So that is how your average, everyday acne is formed. But what about maskne?
How do Masks Cause More Acne?
Maskne is almost the same as regular acne in terms of appearance, but the way it is formed is a little bit different.
In the case of maskne, the fabric of the face mask is touching your skin all day. Even if it’s not all day, a couple of hours of wearing the mask could still do the same amount of damage.
Because the fabric is on your skin, the pores and hair follicles are covered, causing sebum and bacteria to get trapped in the pores which then get clogged up by excess dead skin cells. Then, the heat and moisture in your breath make the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive in and suddenly, you’ve been struck with maskne.
There is another way the maskne can be caused, which is through friction. This is the type of maskne that people who do not get acne often might experience since it is not determined on the condition of the skin or how often you get acne.
How to Treat Maskne
You’ve found a cluster of bumps on your face and you need a solution for maskne treatment ASAP. To spot-treat a problem area, use an OTC anti-inflammatory cream such as hydrocortisone, which you can find at most drugstores. Petroleum jelly is also a viable solution.
Maskne is treatable and usually responds well to regular acne medication. Dermatologists recommend washing your face twice a day and using a gentle cleanser and a hydrating moisturizer. Top drugstore brands include CeraVe and Clean and Clear.
To spot-treat pimples, look for solutions that contain salicylic acid, sulfur, zinc, or 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide. These solutions help unclog pores and zap pimples. Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Treatment Gel is one dermatologist-recommended solution.
If you feel your mask is irritating your skin, try applying a “barrier” product before putting your mask on, like Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment. However, if these solutions don’t work for you, you may need to consult with a dermatologist about trying stronger prescription options.
What Masks Should You Wear that Prevent Maskne?
This is the question of the hour. And the answer is different for each case. However, certain kinds of masks have qualities that will keep your skin unblemished, and there are specific tips and tricks you can employ to keep your skin feeling fresh and looking great.
Fit is Key
For the maskne that is friction-based, the simplest solution is to get a face mask that fits better than the one you currently wear.
Friction happens when the face mask is too tight or too large. If your mask is too tight or small, the fabric presses right up against your face and rubs against your skin every time you talk or move your face and head.
When a mask is too large, the mask slides around when you talk or move your face and head, meaning there is more fabric to rub on your skin.
The friction causes sensitive skin on our faces to feel dry and overwhelmed because the rubbing of the mask takes away our skin’s natural oils which keep us moisturized. So, your skin goes into crazy mode and produces tons of sebum to try to protect the skin that is being rubbed.
This means more oil and more dead skin cells mix in with the sebum from the rubbing of the mask, so more pores end up getting clogged and then bam! Maskne.
First, get a protective face mask that has an anti-microbial fabric as the interior layer. If the fabric has antimicrobial compounds like silver oxide or titanium dioxide, the compounds will be able to kill germs and pathogens, stopping acne-causing bacteria in its tracks.
Using skin safe fabrics is a great way to keep your facial skin happy and clean. Look for masks with hypoallergenic fabric, which are made without harmful chemicals that irritate the skin or cause allergic reactions.
Use face masks that have antimicrobial fabric or natural fabric like cotton or linen rather than synthetic fabrics that do not allow your skin to breathe. Synthetic fabrics tend to trap oil, sweat, and bacteria on the skin. Cotton is more breathable, so sweat can evaporate.
The next tip is to change your mask more often. Keep your mask clean. Wash it after you use it to make sure that there are 1) no harmful particles on the outside of your mask that you could be bringing home, and 2) that the bacteria, oil, and dead skin on the inside on your mask gets washed off so your skin isn’t exposed to it again.
The last big tip is to keep your skin clean. Keeping your skin clean is super important, but in a time of maskne, it is even more so. Make sure that every time you take your mask off, you gently wash your face.
Keep your make-up to a minimum under the mask (not like people can see it anyway) because it can clog pores. Try to let your skin be with just moisturizer or your daily products.
What might serve as a helpful tool for many people is a gentle exfoliator. Because dead skin can build up and begin to clog pores, an exfoliator can easily brush the build-up off the skin before it has a chance to turn into pimples. Look for masks with extra exfoliation additions.
Protecting yourself from the coronavirus shouldn’t come at the expense of your skin. The key is to look for masks with specific skin-saving properties, like hypoallergenic fabrics and anti-microbial compounds. Pair that with a simple acne skincare routine and you won’t have to worry about finding a new cluster of zits each time you don a mask.