A formidable beast now commonly known as 'maskne'.
But despite offering a vital first defence against COVID-19, they come with their own set of problems.
Feedback from frontline workers and folk in other countries who’ve been wearing face masks throughout lockdown is that repeated use can cause unwanted skin flare-ups. "Maskne" (the latest not-so-fun term to enter the coronavirus glossary) refers to acne breakouts that cluster around the mouth underneath the face mask. And unfortunately, the warm weather we've all been waiting for is only making matters worse.
“‘Maskne’ is very common at the moment,” says Professor Caitriona Ryan, Institute of Dermatologists.
“This is another form of acne mechanica, caused by the combination of rubbing from the mask, which causes local pressure on the sebaceous ducts and irritates the skin barrier, as well as the warm, moist micro-environment under the mask, which dilates the pores, increases oil production and causes clogging of the ducts with bacteria and oil.”
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But the good news is there are things you can do to prevent irritation, techniques to incorporate and ingredients that should be avoided.
Here, acne experts break down everything you need to know about treating your skin under PPE.
HOW TO PREVENT MASKNE:
1. Switch Up Your Mask
To keep that sauna-like environment to a minimum, you may want to change the actual mask you’re wearing.
Look for lightweight fabrics that don’t create as much friction against your skin, like cotton, silk or satin. Wash your mask before you wear it for the first time and wash it frequently to cut down on the amount of dirt and bacteria that can linger on the fabric (and then get transferred to your face).
Better yet, invest in multiple masks that you can wear on rotation.
2. Wash Your Face
"Before wearing the mask, wash your face with a gentle cleanser," says Professor Ryan. Using a cleanser that contains acne-fighting salicylic acid or antibacterial benzoyl peroxide will help keep pores clean even if you’re wearing a mask often.
But, as these ingredients can potentially cause irritation, Professor Ryans recommends using them once you've taken your mask off for the day. Oh, and always, always, double cleanse.
"When it comes to treating acne, I recommend a double cleanse. Firstly with micellar water which removes oil-based products such as sunscreen and makeup. Secondly, cleanse with a gentle cream-based cleanser which enables a deeper cleanse of the pores.
"This will also ensure if prescription products such as topical antibiotics/retinoids which are to be applied afterwards will penetrate the skin more readily," says Dr Nicola Ralph, Institute of Dermatologists, Blackrock Clinic/Mater Private.
When protecting your skin from a mask, you want to create a barrier, both between your skin and the mask, and between your skin and the moisture that builds inside while you wear it.
The best way to do this is with a nice, rich, oil-free moisturiser that has ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, which are critical to protecting the skin.
Also make sure your moisturiser is non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores and cause breakouts. Apply your moisturiser morning and night and more often if you think the skin under your mask feels dry or irritated.
4. Keep It Simple
"The majority of us like instantaneous results for a lot of things including skin, therefore introducing lots of new skincare products at once does not always lead to the rapid skin results we hope for," says Dr Ralph.
"If someone has acne-prone skin and uses products that are too heavy for their skin such as oil-containing products, this can lead to more breakouts." Instead, Dr Ralph says to keep things in moderation, picking one or two products that are specifically formulated to fight acne.
"The most important thing you can do for your skin is to double cleanse. This will also ensure if prescription products (such as topical antibiotics/retinoids/OTC treatments) are to be applied afterwards, that they will penetrate the skin more readily," she explains.
HOW TO TREAT MASKNE
If you're a frontline worker or have been wearing a face mask for some months now, you're likely to have dry skin, breakouts and/or rashes around your mouth.
While frustrating, it's a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. Plus, maskne is easily treated at home.
1. Be Gentle
Whenever we hear ‘acne,’ our inclination is to be really aggressive because we want it gone.
But with maskne, when your skin barrier is likely compromised, that’s the worst thing you could do. Exfoliation is a crucial skincare step for acne-prone skin. Although Professor Ryan insists that you should avoid harsh scrubs and over-drying skin as this will result in your skin increasing its own natural production of oil to compensate for the dryness caused by the products, further exasperating the problem.
Instead, opt for a chemical exfoliator, which is an enzyme or acid-based formula. Chemical exfoliants have a smaller molecular structure, which means they can penetrate deeper into the skin to dissolve and dislodge the glue that binds dirt in your pores and causes dead skin cell build-up.
Avoid exfoliating more often than three times a week, and on the days that you do exfoliate, avoid using your products that contain AHAs and BHAs.
2. Forget Sudocrem
Once upon a time, Sudocrem was all you needed to banish a pesky spot into oblivion. Sadly, we're no longer teenagers and our skin needs something a little stronger to really treat breakouts - especially those which have resulted in continual wear of face masks.
Instead, opt for treatment products such as retinol, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or niacinamide.
3. Retinol Is Your Friend
Retinol is the go-to acne-fighting ingredient dermatologists have turned to for years and while it can be irritating, Professor Ryan says you can still use it on maskne if you do it properly.
"Introduce retinol at night to reduce blackhead activity, normalise keratinisation of the pores and decrease inflammatory lesions. I tell my patients to use a quarter pea-sized amount every second night to their forehead, chin and cheeks (avoiding the sides of the nose and around the mouth where dryness can occur), followed by a regular moisturiser."
Start with a low concentration of retinol and use it every other night to see how your skin reacts. And since retinol can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, only use it at night and always wear sunscreen during the day (yes, even if you’re wearing a mask).
4. Whatever You Do, Do Not Squeeze Your Spots
You've heard it from your doctor, your mother and best friend but it's worth repeating: do not squeeze, pick or burst your own spots.
No matter how many episodes of Dr Pimple Popper you’ve binged during lockdown, you need to be careful when performing these procedures as you can lead to more inflammation and even cause infection if done incorrectly.
Main image by @cassblackbird