The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about many changes in our daily lives, including the new norm of wearing a protective face mask while out in public. The mask provides necessary protection against the virus, however prolonged use can have an impact on your skin.
Prolonged and regular use of masks can cause dryness and irritation and can aggravate certain skin diseases. A new term has been coined to describe these skin problems: maskne (mask + acne).
Masks are a necessary part of the global fight against the pandemic. But the rubbing and friction, sweat and moisture from breathing into a mask for hours on end can irritate your skin. This type of irritation is normally localised in the areas where your skin is in contact with the mask, such as the nose, cheeks, chin, and—depending on the mask—behind the ears. The most common symptoms are dry or peeling skin, red spots, and itching.
In addition to general irritation, some skin conditions can worsen due to wearing a mask by disrupting the microbiome of the skin. These include:
Acne—caused by your pores becoming clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and dirt, which can cause pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads.
Rosacea—caused by neurovascular and immune system factors and possibly exacerbated by the presence of a microscopic skin mite, this condition is similar to acne and results in redness, pimples, and visible blood vessels on your skin.
Contact dermatitis—caused by allergies or sensitivity to materials that might be present in your mask, this condition can result in a red rash, along with irritation and blisters.
Folliculitis—caused by an infection of the hair follicles, resulting in itchiness, pain, and bumps that look like an acne breakout.
‘Maskne’ is an umbrella term covering multiple skin issues. If you notice breakouts, consult your doctor and make sure that you understand the underlying cause. Not all skin problems can be treated the same way, so identifying the true problem is crucial to solving it. For example, if you apply an anti-acne cream to rosacea, it will worsen the problem.
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Take care of your skin, please
To create a personalized skin care routine that suits you, make sure you know what skin type you have—is it dry, oily, normal, or a combination of these? Do you have any dermatological problems, such as acne, rosacea, or others?
Some practices are suitable for all skin types:
Drink plenty of water—staying hydrated from the inside will also keep your skin from drying out.
Wash your hair regularly—If you have long hair it will come into contact with your face regularly, so keep it clean. Tying it up before bed is also good practice for the same reason.
Change pillowcases regularly.
Apply sunscreen—this serves as a layer of protection for your skin all year round.
If you think you may have a skin condition, it’s best to consult a dermatologist who can prescribe a suitable treatment. If you can’t schedule an appointment with a specialist and you can’t quite identify the cause of your condition, make sure that the face cream you are using is designed for several purposes—something soothing and hydrating would be best.
Each skin condition is treated differently, so it is important to identify the underlying cause.
To restore the skin’s natural microbiome treat it gently. Regular gentle cleansing and moisturising your skin can greatly reduce the impact of maskne.
When choosing skin care products, stay away from soap—it tends to remove too much protective sebum, resulting in the production of fat on acne-prone skin.
Remember to leave some time between your morning skin care routine and putting on a mask—this gives your skin time to absorb the skin care products you use so they don't end up on the mast instead. 15 min is usually enough time, however the N95 masks have a tight seal, so 30 min is better.
Choose your mask carefully
Maskne can be greatly affected by—you guessed it—the kind of mask you wear.
The material your mask is made of can influence how your skin reacts to being in contact with it for a long period of time. Here are some examples:
Acne-prone skin will react more with materials such as polyester that tends to trap moisture under the mask. In this case it's best to use a mask with an inner layer made of an absorbent material such as cotton.
Sensitive skin will react more to rough and textured materials that can cause irritation. A softer material for the inner layer will feel better to your skin.
If you have an inner layer that is comfortable for your skin, you can choose an outer layer that provides more protection against germs.
Have more than one mask. With more than one mask, you can wash the masks regularly, so that you always have clean fabric against your face. Masks need to be washed and fully dried after every use. Simply leaving it to air out won't get rid of the dirt and germ particles that accumulate during the day.
Disposable masks are not meant for repeated use. Use them once and then toss them. This will protect not only your immune system, but also your skin.
Make sure your mask fits. If your mask is too small, it can chafe your skin, causing irritation. A mask that fully covers your mouth and nose, while still sitting comfortably on your face will be easier on your skin. Also, if the mask isn’t too tight or too loose, you are less likely to make adjustments and potentially bring germs to your face.
Tips & tricks
Here are some additional suggestions on how to improve the condition of your skin under the mask:
Take a “makeup holiday” when you wear a mask. If worn under a mask, makeup is more likely to clog your pores and cause rashes. If you feel you need to wear makeup, choose products labelled “non-comedogenic” or “won't clog pores”.
Avoid trying new products, especially harsher ones such as a chemical peel, exfoliant, or retinoid, for the first time. Wearing a mask will increase the sensitivity of your skin, and strong-acting products can cause irritation.
Pay attention to your skin as is copes with wearing a mask—some skin-care products such aftershave or leave-on salicylic acid may have been fine before, but in combination with a mask, they have a different effect. If you notice some irritation, try cutting out any recently applied skin care products that might be the cause.
Adhering to safety precautions, take a 15-minute mask break every 4 hours if you are able. Health care workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic have found that this helps save their skin.
Safe places to remove your mask include outdoors, when you can stay at least two meters (or 6 feet) away from others, inside your car when you’re alone, and at home.
Persistent skin problems are tough to deal with, but there is always hope. The body wants to heal. If, even after doing everything we suggested, you still get maskne—consult a dermatologist.
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