How to treat and prevent ‘maskne’

Five ways to treat and prevent ‘maskne’. Photo courtesy of Mae-Mae Han.  

MAE-MAE HAN | STAFF REPORTER | mhan@butler.edu

In the era of COVID-19, the world is faced with yet another unprecedented challenge in these unprecedented times: maskne. “Maskne” is just a combination of “mask” and “acne,” ergo, acne that comes from wearing a face mask. According to dermatologist Carlos Charles, maskne is caused by the physical abrasion of a mask on the skin, worsened by the humidity, dirt, sweat, etc. that gets trapped under the mask. Wearing a face mask right now is pretty much non-negotiable, but there are still ways to help out your skin.

 Wash your mask

Sarah Blade, a sophomore biology major and skincare aficionado, expressed concern over how wearing a mask would affect her skin, especially during science labs or back-to-back classes where sweat would be trapped on top of her skin for hours at a time. Even with the temporary switch to online-only instruction that allows Blade to go maskless for much of the day, her skin has already responded negatively to mask-wearing.

“I do notice around my chin … and around my mouth gets more congested than usual,” Blade said.

So, if wearing reusable face masks, make sure to wash them between each use. Not only does this have the great benefit of not re-wearing a potentially-contaminated mask, but it will also make your skin happier. If the sweat, dirt and dead skin cells that build up throughout the day — during an organic chemistry lab, for example — can cause maskne, then you definitely don’t want to be putting all that gunk back onto your skin. 

Following the washing directions for the type of face mask one has — and making sure to let it dry completely before wearing — is a must. However, those who have sensitive skin may need to be wary of what soap or detergent they are using. It is possible that the detergent is causing — or exacerbating — a skin reaction; fragrances and dyes are common irritants. Also, check if symptoms are from acne or an allergic reaction

Wash and moisturize your face every day

If you are someone who does not have a consistent skincare routine, washing your face every single day with a basic face cleanser can make a huge difference for your skin. It can be intimidating to get into skincare at first, but religiously following morning and night routines every day — even if they’re super minimal — can make a long-term positive impact. Improvement comes over time with being patient and practicing good skincare habits.

After washing one’s face, it is absolutely imperative to moisturize! The water from washing one’s face and even face cleansers can compromise the skin barrier, which dehydrates the skin. So, it is incredibly important to replenish the skin’s moisture by using a moisturizer. A compromised skin barrier makes skin more sensitive to irritants, such as masks, so contrary to what one may think, having dehydrated skin actually worsens or can cause acne. 

People should still be moisturizing even if they have oily skin, since “oily” refers to oil — sebum — while “dehydrated” refers to water moisture. Dehydrated skin can actually make skin more oily, thus more prone to sweating under one’s mask and further irritating the skin, because the skin may overcompensate for the dehydration by producing more oil.

 Use chemical exfoliation

A common way to treat acne is by using chemical exfoliants, which help to encourage skin cell turnover or “unglue” dead skin cells. Some of the more common chemical exfoliants are salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid; also, many face cleansers marketed for acne contain salicylic acid. 

Other products like toners or serums, which are used at night after cleansing but before moisturizing, can also contain chemical exfoliant actives — sometimes labelled with the specific acid, sometimes just with “AHA”/alpha hydroxy acid or “BHA”/beta hydroxy acid. A cult-favorite product is the Pixi Glow Tonic, which is available at Ulta and at Target; toners such as this one can be applied with either a cotton pad or just fingers. Again, only use chemical exfoliants at night, as they can cause photosensitivity, a heightened risk for a reaction under sunlight. Also avoid combining too many products that have chemical exfoliants to ensure the skin is able to tolerate that high of a concentration of active ingredients.

 Use an oil control product

Those that feel particularly sweaty under masks may want to consider using an oil-control or mattifying moisturizer or makeup primer in the morning before putting on their mask. YouTuber Andreá Matillano, who has oily skin, swears by the Elf Oil Control Primer Mist. Gel moisturizers are often recommended for oily skin to help moisturize without being greasy or overly oily.

However, make sure to let everything dry and fully absorb before putting on your mask. In general, cosmetics — including skincare, foundation, aftershave, lipstick, or lip balm — aren’t recommended for under masks because anything that can get onto the lining can decrease its effectiveness.

 Be kind to yourself

Don’t bombard the skin with a whole host of new skincare products all at once, because that increases the chance of an adverse reaction. As a rule of thumb, remember that because everyone’s skin is different, everyone will react differently to different products. People should patch test new products before using them to make sure they are not allergic.

Also, do not physically manipulate your skin. Do not pick at any pimples, do not touch your face and do not use any physical exfoliators, including those fancy — and sometimes expensive — gadgets that TikTok likes to push. Physical manipulation can easily be done incorrectly if not by a dermatologist or esthetician, which leads to things like irritation, a longer healing process and long-term scarring. It’s safer to use chemical exfoliants or just leave the skin alone.

Lastly, remember that your skin is just your flesh prison. Having “good” or “bad” skin has no inherent worth on your value as a multi-faceted human being. If you have some acne, that is totally okay, and you are not alone. At the end of the day, sometimes there are just bigger things to worry about.

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