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Maskne: 5 ways to avoid acne breakouts while wearing a mask

Rachel V Wall

Right now, Government guidance is to mask-up but growing numbers of us are experiencing skin breakouts as a result. Welcome to a new term in the time of coronavirus – maskne.

Dr Tanya Bleiker, President of the British Association of Dermatologists, says: “For the vast majority of people, wearing masks will not lead to noticeable skin irritation or other skin issues such as acne.” 

But with the Google search ‘maskne’ (acne caused by wearing a mask) accruing over one million hits, there are also plenty of people dealing with blemishes thanks to the new normal. “For a small number of people there may be some skin irritation,” says Tanya. “Particularly for those with pre-existing skin conditions, due to an accumulation of sweat combined with friction and pressure.” As face coverings are essential, here's how can acne be avoided…

1Cleanse and moisturise twice a day, every day

It’s a given that we should already be invested in this aspect of skincare but if you’re not, now is most certainly the time. “Cleansing the skin twice a day and moisturising afterwards may help in reducing the risk of acne or eczema reactions resulting from mask wearing,” says Tanya.

Wearing a mask increases the chances of clogging our pores as it creates a moist, humid environment which allows germs to thrive. These masks are designed to keep germs out but they also block bacteria in, making breakouts almost inevitable. 

Cleansing and exfoliating allows skin to effectively turn-over dead skin cells and bacteria, rather than locking them into your pores. Although Tanya advises against over-cleansing “as this can cause the skin to dry out further”. More is not necessarily better and the same goes for moisturiser. So look for something lightweight which will allow the skin to breathe while also creating a layer of protection from the friction of your mask.

2Avoid makeup and allow skin to breathe

Lockdown showed that there really are two kinds of makeup wearers in this world. Those who are popping Champagne at the thought of a bare-faced future and those excitedly layering on slap for a 20-minute trip to the supermarket. But the latter might unknowingly be setting themselves up for a pimpled attack. 

Tanya advises against a full face, if you can. “When wearing a mask, particularly for a long period, it’s best to avoid wearing heavy makeup or foundation.” 

Routinely wearing a mask causes micro-tears in the skin, which is like rolling out the red carpet for bacteria. Applying makeup to this already compromised surface makes it much easier for skin to become infected and inflamed (or, in other words, spotty). 

But some of us still have people to see and places to be, so instead opt for products which are labelled as non-comedogenic as these don’t block pores.

3Wash your mask every day

Cultivate the habit of regularly washing your mask. Not only does it contain our own contaminates (after we spend the day coughing and sneezing into the poor thing), but it can add to our whiteheaded woes. Experts recommend a mask is washed at the end of every day after use. This not only contends with Covid-19 but also means that dead skin cells, dirt and pollution, which become trapped in the mask, don’t make it back onto your face the following day, ready to cause a pimpled pandemonium. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines for how to wash your mask here.

4Buy your mask with breakouts in mind

With the future looking very mask-heavy, it’s important to invest in one which is effective but allows breathability and stands up to regular washing. 

Synthetic fibres make it harder for skin to breathe and cause more friction and irritation when worn for long periods. Instead, look for softer, natural fabrics, such as cotton blended with silk or chiffon, which effectively filter particles without putting the health of your epidermis on the line.

5If all else fails, seek specialist help

If your skin is a cruel mistress you can take all the appropriate steps and still find yourself blighted by blemishes. Moreover, while acne has taken center-stage in skincare conversations in 2020, many people suffer from eczema, psoriasis and rosacea that have been exacerbated by these unprecedented times.

If traditional treatments aren’t hitting the spot, consult a dermatologist; many of whom are now holding virtual consultations. For some of us, medication, topical creams or antibiotics might hold the answer to maskne so don’t be afraid to reach out. We could be covering our chops for quite some time yet.

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