Fight the maskne, not the mask

Brigit Hirsch explains how to confront skincare problems from PPE

You’ve been a responsible global citizen. You wear masks to brunch, to the shop, and to watch Hamilton at a safe distance from your friends. However, there’s a price to pay for public safety, and the bottom half of your face is paying it in pimples. After several shifts at work, my own face decided it didn’t like spending eight hours under PPE, so I dove into skincare clickholes to find a solution. Skincare takes patience and time, but there are some simple tips everyone can take to appease a mask-clad face while also flattening the curve.

Assess the problem

Maskne is usually the result of one or two specific, solvable problems. It’s important to take a look in the mirror and decide which problem areas are due to clogged pores and which are due to irritation. Each calls for a different remedy. A mask is a greenhouse for clogged pores, a microenvironment right there below your eyes. It traps dead skin cells, moisture, and heat against your face all day. The heat from your breath encourages sweating and can increase sebum and oil production. All of these elements mix together to clog up pores, the classic cause of whitehead and blackhead production beneath your mask. Irritation, the second main problem, can cause acne mechanica. Constant pressure or physical friction from a mask can cause the skin barrier to weaken or break, and it becomes vulnerable to that combination of bacteria and material trapped against the skin. When maskne forms in places where skin is always touching or moving against your mask, such as at the jawline or on the bridge of the nose, it is most likely due to irritation. 

“A mask is a greenhouse for clogged pores, a microenvironment right there below your eyes.”

For clogged pores

The best way to deal with clogged pores is to combat the maskne-fostering environment on your skin. Eliminate any unnecessary layers of product beneath the mask. While it doesn’t usually cause acne on its own, heavy foundation and similar products increase the buildup of sediment on the skin surface. It’s time to acknowledge that human skin is as wonderful as it is imperfect and to embrace the blemishes that masks will hide anyway. To limit bacteria growth under the mask, make sure that your mask is always clean and free of the previous day’s debris before you put it on. Bring a second mask to change into after a few hours of continuous wear or after noticeably picking up moisture from your face.

Give the skin under your mask a chance to breathe. Try to take off your mask at least once an hour while observing social distancing protocols. During that time, products which are naturally astringent or antibiotic, such as toners or treatments that contain diluted witch hazel or tea tree oil, are great for refreshing the surface of your skin. In a safe environment, take a break from your mask, put the toner on a cotton pad (there are reusable options available, like washable bamboo pads), and swipe it gently over your face. Simply splashing water on your face and patting it dry will also help cut down the grime if you don’t want to go out of your way to purchase new products. It may also be beneficial to use a gentle, overnight chemical exfoliant once or twice a week, such as a salicylic acid cleanser or a glycolic acid toner, to help clear out dead skin and gunk on a molecular level. If you do use an exfoliant, be sure to apply sunscreen or an spf product every day for at least a week after use, even if it’s cloudy or raining.

For irritation

While treating acne mechanica, be as gentle as possible. The goal is to heal a skin barrier that is already broken, so there are a few skincare products that should not be used in this process. Never use a chemical exfoliant or a physical exfoliant, such as a scrub or dermaplaning, to treat this type of maskne. If your skin is abraded or bleeding, treat it as carefully as you would treat any other cut or scrape. Makeup wipes can be abrasive, so avoid scrubbing them over this type of acne. Facial products containing high concentrations of fragrance, essential oils, or dehydrating and stripping ingredients such as denatured alcohol can also be harmful to irritated skin. If something smells lovely, acne mechanica will probably react to it, so put it aside. The face is one of the most delicate areas of your skin, and it can easily sustain long-term damage and scarring. 

“If something smells lovely, acne mechanica will probably react to it, so put it aside.”

Luckily, skin is also equipped with regenerative and self-healing abilities, which can be assisted with proper care. Carefully wash the irritated areas each night, using either a gentle cleanser, or just water if a cleanser will irritate your skin further. Reach for soothing products in your cabinet with oat or hydrating humectants, such as hyaluronic acid or honey, both of which are antibacterial. If your skin particularly needs a boost, products containing tamanu oil or rosehip oil can help heal the skin barrier. In the morning, provide a barrier of moisturizer, antibiotic ointment, or plain petroleum jelly between your skin and areas where maskne tends to arise. Note whether a mask moves around because it’s too large or presses tightly because it’s too small, and adjust the straps to better suit your face shape. These adjustments might compromise the effectiveness of the mask, so if you work in a medical or high-risk environment, ask a healthcare professional’s advice before trying these tips. 

“Above all, it’s important to take care of yourself and your own health while adjusting to side effects of the new normal.”

It takes time and patience to see good results with skincare. Products or tricks claiming to instantly clear skin can dry out or deeply damage your skin, so while maskne is frustrating, it’s essential to use safe methods to combat it. Above all, it’s important to take care of yourself and your own health while adjusting to side effects of the new normal. Be safe and stay fresh.

Brigit Hirsch

Brigit Hirsch is the current Social Media Editor of Trinity News.