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8 Ways to Protect Your Face from Maskne, the Skin Problem in the New Normal

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, people across the globe are doing everything they can to keep each other safe. Face masks are a crucial defence against the COVID virus. Nowadays, wearing a mask not only protects you but also those around you.

Unfortunately, frequent mask use may cause skin irritations like dryness and acne. Popular on social media nowadays the term Maskne, which refers to breakouts due to daily mask use. Not only does it cause discomfort and pain, but it may also negatively affect your emotional wellness and self-esteem.

How Maskne Develops

If you’re wondering why you’re suddenly having those breakouts since the pandemic happened, a culprit to blame may be that face mask you’ve been using. When your skin under and around the face mask is exposed to excessive friction, heat, and pressure, you end up having Acne mechanica. These factors, when combined with sweat, residue and bacteria, will make your skin irritated, itchy and painful. They can cause rashes and severe acne now known as Maskne. Acne mechanica is different from acne caused by hormones, increased secretion of sebum, clogged hair follicles and inflammation by C. acnes.

Acne mechanica is a skin irritation due to friction caused by any articles of clothing such as tight straps, belts, athlete pads, etc. While it’s a more common form of acne for athletes and soldiers, everyone can suffer from this skin irritation nowadays because of constant use of face masks.

How to prevent Maskne

While you may hate it now for causing you acne, that face mask is actually your life saver during a global pandemic. Thus, you have to accept that it is now part of the new norm. Since getting rid of that mask is not an option, focus on ways to revitalise your facial skin and keep it healthy despite regularly wearing a mask. Here are some of them:

Make Sure to Clean Your Mask

The most common face mask used today is cloth mask. Despite its reusability, people often neglect cleaning cloth masks daily. Washing your cloth masks with detergent and properly sanitising them can help reduce the likelihood of maskne. It will not only protect you from the virus but also remove dead skin and dirt that can cause skin irritation.

It is also ideal to always bring an extra mask in case your mask gets soaked in sweat.

Avoid putting on makeup

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends not to put any makeup on the affected area of your face until your skin heals. Cosmetics can worsen a mask induced skin problem. However, if you really need to apply makeup, an oil-free product like mineral-based makeup is recommended.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

While maintaining a balanced diet is crucial in boosting your immune system during the pandemic, it is also the key to maintain healthy skin. Managing what you eat is very important in dealing with acne. Eat a wholesome, low glycemic diet. Make sure you enjoy balanced meals containing fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein sources, and whole grains.

Manage Stress

Face masks aside, stress is a contributing factor to acne development. When you’re stressed, your skin and immune system take a blow. The cells in the body that produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones. Thus, properly managing stress can not only make your body stay in tip-top health but also prevent acne and other skin irritation.

Cleanse Your Face Daily with a Soap-free Gentle Cleanser

Since masks create a harsh condition for your skin, using a gentle soap-free cleanser gives it a break from harsh chemicals and lets your skin breathe. Mild cleansers effectively remove excess sebum and dirt build-up without stressing your skin.

Use a mild, non-drying, and alcohol-free cleanser when washing your face twice daily. It is also best to choose a soap-free cleanser that has a similar pH to the skin and contains alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which is effective in stimulating skin renewal and removing cutaneous sebum, dead skin cells and impurities.

Additionally, a cleanser formulated with prebiotics create a healthy environment for the skin microbiome. Prebiotics, the nutrients for bacteria that help to stimulate production of antimicrobial peptides, can help promote the skin’s ecosystem and natural defences to combat C. acnes. This effectively addresses the root causes of acne.

Moisturize

Dry skin is a common problem with face masks. Applying moisturizer before and after using face masks gives your skin an additional protective layer that reduces friction and dryness.

However, be careful in choosing a moisturizer. Some might just aggravate your Maskne. Stay away from greasy moisturizing creams as these can worsen your skin condition. Choose moisturizers that are oil-free and fragrance-free to hydrate your skin while preventing acne. Choose a non-comedogenic, lightweight bland formulation, which can come in the forms of gel, water-based, or oil-in-water emulsions.

Apply Spray or Gel-based Sunscreen

Wearing a face mask doesn’t spare your face from the damaging rays of the sun. Applying a generous amount of sunscreen before using your mask is a great way to ensure your skin won’t suffer from UV damage. Minimising unnecessary skin damage will help reduce the chances of developing Maskne. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and PA +++ above.

Consult a Dermatologist for Severe Cases

Unfortunately, for some, simple steps aren’t enough to prevent Maskne. This is especially true for people who have ongoing skin conditions or have sensitive skin. In case of severe Maskne, it’s best to consult a dermatologist for expert advice and treatment.

You don’t have to hate the face mask that protects you from the virus because of those unwanted breakouts. To prevent Maskne, keep your face mask clean, maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow a good skincare regimen. Keeping your face healthy and beautiful while protecting yourself from the virus is certainly possible.

An Expert Opinion by:

Prof Tran Hau Khang
President of the Vietnam Society of Dermatology and Venereology (VNSDV)
Deputy President of Asian Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (AADV)