How To Deal With Maskne, AKA “Mask Acne” – It's A Thing!
Wearing a face mask anytime you’re in public has been proven an effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. That’s awesome, and we also love that there are so many rad designs out there that provide another opportunity for some self-expression in these crazy times. That said, the dang things are leading to acne breakouts, chafing, and even fungal infections. Like, seriously?!
In fact, when we asked board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner about the issue of maskne, he told us that a large number of the clients he’s seeing through his tele-visits are specifically coming to him for help on how to deal with these unsavory face mask side effects. In other words: you’re not alone.
Maskne: Why Face Masks Cause Breakouts and Chafing
Before diving into the fix, let’s first talk about why face masks are giving people so much trouble. Regarding maskne, Dr. Zeichner says there are two primary issues to consider.
“First, direct friction promotes inflammation in the skin and breakouts, known as ‘acne mechanica.’ Second, face masks trap humidity [from simply breathing], oil, and sweat on the skin and allow for overgrowth of microorganisms, which collectively block the pores and lead to acne flares,” he explains. “As for chafing, this is essentially skin barrier disruption and inflammation from chronic rubbing of an external surface against the skin. For face mask to be effective, they need to form a tight seal on the skin, which leads to chafing.”
Anyone can develop acne, inflammation, and chafing from wearing masks – even those who usually have super clear skin. That said, those who are more prone to the aforementioned issues, such as people with sensitive skin, thin skin, chronic skin ailments, and acne-prone skin, are more likely to experience trouble with maskne.
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How to Prevent Maskne & Chafing
Soooo, what’s a person supposed to do when they’re trying to give the finger to COVID-19 but don’t want to live that maskne life? Fortunately, you’ve got some options.
Choose Natural Fabrics: “Synthetic fabrics and masks are definitely more likely to cause breakouts and chaffing due to the nature of the weave,” says Dr. Sarah Dolder, a board–certified dermatologist in Greenwich, Connecticut. “Natural fabrics like cotton and silk allow for more breathability, which means the moisture levels and bacteria load are reduced within the masked area of the skin.”
(We do want to point out that there’s a trade-off here. Improved ventilation means more exposure to environmental air. If you’re a front-line worker or otherwise in public spaces for long stretches of time, then please stick with the extra thick stuff (like N95). When we’re talking maskne versus coronavirus, that’s a no-brainer!)
Wash/Swap Out Your Mask Regularly: As Dr. Zeichner outlined above, bacteria, fungi, and moisture come together in masks, making them a prime breeding ground for the yuckiness that can cause inflammation and acne. Wash your mask daily (you can easily do so by hand or via the washer) and have a backup ready for action. “When washing, I recommend sticking to gentle, fragrance–free detergents like Tide Free and Gentle, $12, in order to minimize the risk of developing skin allergies,” he says.
Apply a Zinc-Based SPF: Before putting on your mask, apply a layer of zinc oxide-based SPF. “Zinc oxide is both a mineral UV blocker and skin protectant that is a main ingredient in baby diaper creams. It helps form a seal over the skin to provide some level of protection from the mask itself,” explains Dr. Zeichner. We’re fond of Versed Skin Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen, $22, and Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Sunscreen, $10.
Wash Your Face Like You Mean It: You know it’s important to wash your face every night, but if you’re dealing with maskne then this step is absolutely vital to your cause. Of course, we always recommend double cleansing at the end of the day to ensure that makeup, dirt and grime are properly removed. Start with an oil-based makeup remover like our WISHFUL Clean Genie Cleansing Butter, $35, which gently removes all traces of makeup and SPF while soothing your skin. Then, choose a gentle water-based cleanser for your second step that’ll effectively detox and cleanse your pores. Dr. Zeichner recommends Inn Beauty Project Foam Around Clarifying Daily Cleanser, $22, which contains ultra–gentle polyhydroxy acids that help hydrate your skin while cleansing.
Be Gentle and Hydrate: When your skin is acting out and inflamed, take it easy on any active ingredients you’re using in your routine, and instead opt for soothing, calming and hydrating products. Skip BHAs, glycolic acid toners and retinol, and apply healing serums, like the skin-soothing Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Serum, $46, and use a hydrating sheet mask like the WISHFUL Thirst Trap Cocoon Mask, $9, which is packed with time-tested ingredients like aloe vera and sodium hyaluronate to soothe and hydrate your skin, and allantoin and niacinamide brighten and protect.
Apply a Soothing Balm or Cream: If your current skincare regimen is working for you then you’re good, but if you’re dealing with super sensitive skin, chafing, inflammation, and/or acne, we recommend investing in a soothing balm with ingredients that are going to work overtime for you. Dr. Dolder, a proud Aussie native, says that Lucas’ Papaw Ointment, $12, is one of her favorites. Some other choice picks are Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Calming Gel Cream, $48, and Farmacy Honey Savior All-in-One Skin Repair Salve, $34.
Treat Your Acne Head-On: Those dealing with unforgiving, stubborn acne despite following the advice above should also take the spot-treatment approach. Dr. Zeichner recommends a product that contains benzoyl peroxide – such as Neutrogena On the Spot Acne Treatment, $9 – which “helps lower levels of acne–causing bacteria to reduce inflammation of the skin.” We also like Hero Cosmetics Micropoint for Blemishes, $13.
Have more questions about maskne? Let’s chat in the comment section below!
Disclaimer: Every product we review has been independently selected and tested without bias by our editorial team. We never take payment to review products, however, some brands allow affiliate links, so we may earn a commission if you purchase a product by clicking on one of our links.
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