Wearing a mask is kinda great. Not only does it make everyone look hot, it makes it way easier to hide from ex-boyfriends, overly-friendly co-workers, or anybody else you may want to avoid when going out in public. Let’s not forget they also prevent us from spreading a virus which may only manifest as the symptoms of the common cold in us, but may be fatal to those around us who have compromised immune systems. There’s just one problem that keeps popping up online and in my whatsapp chats with friends: If you do it every day, and for prolonged periods of time, wearing a mask causes breakouts.
If you’ve noticed your skin going a little haywire since lockdowns started, you’re not alone. Maybe of my friends have complained about their increasing maskne (AKA mask acne), and a quick Google search brings up loads of hits on the topic. If increased spots have started to pop up on parts of your skin usually covered by your mask, you too may be a victim of maskne.
Why your mask causes breakouts
In one of the many sources discussing the maskne issue, Mora Gluskin, writing for Betches, spoke to dermatologist Dr. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, and learned that maskne is actually Acne Mechanica—a skin issue triggered by heat, pressure, friction, or rubbing. Acne Mechanica has always affected athletes, particularly those who wear helmets and protective padding, but now that we’re all masking-up, none of us are safe.
“Sweat, dirt, and oil under the areas of occlusion then cause clogging of the pores, resulting in inflammation,” Badreshia-Bansal told Gluskin.
On top of that, many of us have also seen a general skin freak-out. If your skin is acting up outside of your mask region (like mine has), it’s not maskne, but it may still be a side-effect of this pandemic.
It seems counter-intuitive that staying home, out of the sun, with more time than ever to focus on out skincare regimen would have us breaking out. That is, of course, until you factor in the stress of this entire year. The whole world is on fire and while more time at home sounded peaceful before we got hit by a pandemic, it’s now become just another thing stressing us all out.
It’s been proven that stress can trigger acne, or make existing acne worse. That’s because with stress comes an increase in a hormone called CRH, or corticotrophin-releasing hormone. This hormone binds to receptors in the skin’s sebaceous glands, which drives up the skin’s oil production. That, unfortunately, then leads to pimples.
“These sebaceous glands are also immune organs, and they can create inflammation,” Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University told Time. “At the end of the day, an acne blemish is basically inappropriate inflammation, and so turning on that immune response can exacerbate swelling or redness.”
So, great, not one but two reasons our skin refuses to behave and has us looking like hormonal high school kids. It’s almost a blessing that we don’t have to show our faces in the outside world as much.
So what can we do about it?
Masks aren’t going anywhere soon, so it’s best that we learn to prevent the maskne long term. We can do this by opting for breathable cotton fabrics which don’t rub against our skin too harshly and by washing them after every use. Note that I’ve written this in bold for emphasis. Not only is keeping your mask clean going to make it more effective against the coronavirus, but your skin will thank you for it too.
Dr. Badreshia-Bansal also advises that wearers, “Wash or wipe any dirt or sweat off of the face as soon as you can, because oil and dirt can get trapped under your mask and cause breakouts,” especially when the weather starts getting warmer, or if you’ve worn your mask while exercising.
Another preventative measure could be to apply a topical vitamin A serum, like retinol, adapalene, or tretinoin, and if you’ve got dry skin, remember to moisturise before you put your mask on. No matter your skin type, try to avoid wearing heavy foundation. Do you really need to go full glam if nobody can see it anyway? Let that skin breathe!
If you’ve already got the spots, just treat them the way you would normal acne. Try not to touch them too much, and apply whatever potion you normally would. (I myself am trying out some remedies, so keep an eye on our lifestyle and reviews sections for the results of that experiment later!)
According to Gluskin, “maskne is a vicious cycle. You break out, you hide it with a mask, and then break out more, causing you to wear your mask more, and so on and so forth”. But like it or not, the masks are here to stay, so let’s learn to adapt and keep enjoying them for the purposes of disguise and for the fact that they shorted the amount of time it takes to apply make-up.
Finally, if you’re noticing that wearing a mask causes breakouts for you, have you thought about actually following the guidelines set out by just about every country in the world, and going out less? Not only will you be protecting yourself from the zits, but also from a virus that could harm you and your loved ones.
If you have been staying home and your acne is most likely pandemic stress related, there are a few other steps you can take to make the situation a little less horrifying.
First of all, get enough sleep. Find ways to relax yourself if this is the root of the problem. Whatever works for you, just make sure you make sleeping well a priority. Of course, you already know this, but staying hydrated and maintaining a balanced diet are also big players in this game.
To help calm breakouts after the fact, Salicylic acid, a type of acid that can unclog pores, can be really helpful, and products containing benzoyl peroxide, an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, can help calm irritated skin, too.
Again, don’t scratch or fidget with any spots that do pop up. I know this isn’t easy, but trust me. TRUST ME. touching them makes them SO much worse.
If you’ve been feeling down about your skin during this pandemic, keep in mind that you’re not alone. So many of us are having a hard time and feeling tempted to set the quality of our webcam’s onto the lowest setting during conference calls.
Remember that the more you stress about it, the worse it get, so keep calm and slap on a nice clay face pack.
Masks are here to stay, but pandemic skin doesn’t have to be.