The unprecedented Covid-19 has dramatically changed our lives and cultivated a gradual shift in everyday practices. In addition to our social, occupational, and personal lives, the pandemic has left us with a new skin concern, and it’s called: acne mechanica, or “mask-ne”. In today’s article, we will talk about how to prevent and treat mask acne.
Basically, prolonged wearing of the face masks leave your skin vulnerable, inflamed, and reactive—which is why it’s essential to protect it even more now. Dermatologists have cited pressure injury, contact dermatitis, pressure urticaria, and exacerbation of pre-existing skin diseases as common skin conditions that have emerged during this period.
And in a country like the United Arab Emirates, with high temperature and increased humidity during the summer months, it is not uncommon to notice a seasonal aggravation of acne. The prolonged use of face masks in these conditions, don’t help either. So what can you do to prevent mask-related acne breakouts? Well lucky for you, you’re in the right place. Here are a few guidelines to help keep your skin spot-free, beneath the mask:
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How to prevent and treat mask acne?
Use gentle facial washes
Face masks create a warm, humid environment that traps sweat, oil, and bacteria on the skin. Therefore, make it a habit to wash your face twice, both before and after taking off your mask. I recommend using gentle cleansers (for oily and dry skin) and follow this up with a good moisturizer.
Use moisturizers with skin-barrier boosting ingredients
Poorly moisturized skin is more vulnerable to damage from external stressors such as pollution, friction or even dry air. We would therefore suggest incorporating a barrier-focused moisturizer in your routine.
This will not only boost the structure and integrity of the barrier but also help retain moisture in the skin by minimizing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Look for moisturizers that combines occlusive and humectant ingredients together, such as ceramides, glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
Repair your skin barrier
The constant pressure from the mask against the skin, together with friction, heat and moisture can disrupt skin barrier, causing irritation. This of course, is more concerning for health care workers donning the PPEs for extended periods. Consider using a barrier or restorative creams. Click here to read more.
Use Anti-inflammatory Ingredients
For health care workers dealing with acne, I would recommend the use of anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide, azelaic acid, turmeric and centella asiatica. (For niacinamide, I would suggest The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, The Inkey List Niacinamide Oil Control Serum and The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%.)
Use a chemical exfoliant
Chemical exfoliants such as alpha hydroxy acids—glycolic and lactic acid (or) beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid, work by dissolving dead cells on the skin’s surface. Over time, it improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, rough textures, clogged pores whilst improving cell renewal and the lipid content in the barrier function.
Hence it would be advisable to use products with chemical exfoliants to tackle any existing blemishes. If you’re newly venturing into this, I would recommend using chemical exfoliants once weekly and then gradually building it up. You can start with salicylic acid based cleanser, such as CeraVe Salicylic Acid Cleanser. Also, consult your dermatologist to help you choose the right product for your skin type.
Spot treat your breakouts
Wearing a mask can cause the face to sweat more and this can lead to an aggravation of breakouts, especially in acne-prone skin. The best approach would be spot treat the pimple when they pop-up using some trusty over-the-counter treatments.
For this, you can use 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide gel or azelaic acid (Skinoren) cream. The latter has both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties which helps decrease the swelling and redness of the skin associated with mask acne.
Acne patches or stickers on the other hand, are hydro-colloid dressings that are infused with good, healing ingredients that work by absorbing excess fluid and pulling out the “superficial debris” from inside the breakout.
Ditch the makeup
I would advise skip wearing makeup under the mask, and even more so if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Try to avoid thick foundations and concealers, and steer clear from using any potentially irritating or pore-clogging ingredients.
If anything, don’t forget your sunscreen. Look for SPF 30 and broad spectrum ones. Apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before wearing your mask and stepping out.
Use a clean mask
Avoid reusing your mask over and over again even if it seems clean, to prevent the build up of dirt and acne-causing bacteria. For reusable fabric masks, the fabric material plays an important role. Wherever possible, opt for softer materials, like a well-fitted mask made from a combination of cotton with natural silk.
Fabric masks: make sure to launder them regularly. Better still, wash them in hot water and make yourself more than one, so you can alternate between them. Some people might simply be allergic to the detergents used for washing the masks, so if the entire area covered by the face mask is irritated and/or sensitized, it is likely to be triggered by your detergent.
Disposable masks: however, the best mask for acne-prone skin would be the disposable surgical masks. These seemingly regular looking masks are water-repellent, made from non-woven fabric and are loose-fitting to minimize friction. Once used, safely dispose it off and wear a new the next day.
Bottomline: wearing face masks are important for our safety during the pandemic, however some simple preventative measures can make this experience less daunting.