The DC team can attest that the walk to our office is a blazing one. Being in an industrial area means more concrete, less shade and a generous surface area for the sun to bake. The first time I headed back to work after circuit breaker, I positively grew a full foundation beard (not even a moustache) in the 15-minute walk. By the weekend I had sprouted new zits on my chin and officially initiated into a new skin order. Mask? Check, with a probable dose of maskne on the side. Upsize and supersize at no charge!
Maskne — an aggregate (literally) of “mask” + “acne” — has gotten its claws on everyone’s backs of late. So we’re sharpening our paws to combat this new normal skin woe. Why do masks break you out and how can you regain clear skin? We talk everything maskne, from the science behind mask-induced breakouts, how to prevent them and new maskne-fighting wonders to cart-out this season.
The Low-Down: Maskne
No, you’re not imagining things.
Maskne, or mask-related acne, is a real condition that is neither an exaggeration nor novel. In fact, maskne has been a long-running concern for professions that require extended and regular use of masks. But with masking-up becoming mandatory, these mask-induced breakouts have now settled in among the general population.
The Science Behind Maskne
If there’s a perfect climate for breaking out, beneath a face mask comes quite close. Breathing and talking with a mask on traps a whole lot of hot air which creates a warm, humid environment. This concentrated heat and humidity can alter the pH of your skin, creating a hotbed for yeast, bacteria and other skin mites (e.g. Demodex) to grow. The resultant pimple party is often caused by trapped yeast and infected hair follicles from bacterial overgrowth. Bummer!
That said, mask-induced skin irritation is not limited to maskne. Yeast overgrowth may also cause Cheilitis, which causes the sides of the mouth to become inflamed, leading to persistent dry/cracked corners and chapped lips. There is also a possibility of Perioral Dermatitis, a variant of rosacea that results in dry, inflamed rash and painful deep cystic pimples.
All these aside, the mere act of constantly adjusting your mask can result in damage to the outer protective layer of the skin (from persistent friction), making it more sensitive and susceptible to irritation.
How To Prevent Maskne
The million dollar question. While there probably isn’t a surefire way to escape maskne, there are ways to reduce the chances of skin irritation/breakouts. We’re not talking expensive, tedious changes. Here are some simple (and free) everyday tweaks to get ahead on maskne!
1. Wear the right mask.
While many medical professionals still consider disposable masks the best bet against maskne (from a medical standpoint) because they’re thin, can be frequently replaced and medically effective, they’re certainly not the most sustainable option. If you prefer reusable cloth masks*, choose softer, natural and more breathable fabric such as 100% cotton, natural fibers or antimicrobial fabrics. Try to avoid synthetic materials like nylon, polyester and rayon which are less-friendly for sensitive skin. Also make sure your mask is snug, fitting, but always comfortable; this reduces the friction from over-adjusting a loose mask, or the suffocating grip of a face-hugging one.
*Cloth masks/face coverings may not always be as medically effective. Make sure your mask also serves its protective purpose — see this guide on how to select the most effective cloth mask!
2. Wash your mask.
A given! It is of paramount importance to keep your mask clean and rid of oil, perspiration, makeup, saliva and everything else collected on the insides. Be sure to follow the washing instructions for your mask; although a thorough cleanse would generally mean washing your mask with warm water and fragrance-free, hypoallergenic detergent. Remember that even reusable masks have their expiry dates too — replace them when necessary for maximum protection and wear.
(Psst! Need a video tutorial on mask washing? Hop over to this short one here.)
3. Go easy on makeup.
Now’s the perfect time to get lazy with your makeup routine. The warm and humid situation under your mask makes it easier for makeup to clog pores…and you know the rest. Especially when you’ll be wearing a mask for extended periods of time, opt for lightweight, non-comedogenic and oil-free makeup. It’s also a good time to pass on heavy duty foundation and consider more breathable tinted moisturisers/sunscreens instead. Alternatively, if you won’t be taking your mask off at all, just wear half a face of makeup and go completely makeup-free on the other — no one will ever know.
Our Guide To Skincare For Maskne
Whether you’re grappling with newfound maskne or looking to steer clear of it, now might be a good time to refresh your skincare routine for a calmer and clearer visage. Take your pick from these maskne-fighting wonders:
Washing your face is non-negotiable and even more important after a whole day of masking up. Choose a gentle cleanser that won’t further irritate your skin, like this one from B Skin. Packed with microcrystalline cellulose beads, this creamy foaming cleanser is gentle but thorough. Suitable for everyday use, the Soft Bead Cleanser will delicately exfoliate dead skin cells without over-stripping for refreshed, bright and moisturised skin.
Exfoliating your skin on a weekly basis can help to better keep it free from potential breakout-causing buildup like dead cells, impurities, traces of pollution and even leftover makeup. This luxurious gel-cream exfoliator is concentrated with natural-origin pink jojoba microbeads that will gently smooth, retexturise, refine and tighten pores. For a cleanse above the rest, Chanel’s Le Gommage Exfoliating Gel is also formulated with potent marine extracts of Violet Micro-Algae (oxygenating, stimulating cellular respiration) and Marine Spring Water (remineralising).
For a stronger dose of chemical exfoliation, consider popping in a facial treatment peel like this one from Philosophy that’s supercharged with 6% AHA/BHA, Probiotic Complex and Hibiscus Extract for an intense reset. The overnight peel works its magic as you snooze to smooth, tone and retexturise for a healthier, more radiant and poreless complexion. Brownie points because the formula dries clear for stain-free pillowcases!
Made from freshly roasted and grinded Coffee Bean Powder, this facial scrub is also enriched with Peruvian Green Coffee Oil and Coconut Oil to remove impurities, while encouraging skin regeneration. The vegan-friendly formula (bonus points) also boasts strong antioxidant properties and Vitamin E to revitalise dry, stressed skin for restored radiance. This creamy scrub also smells absolutely divine (just like freshly brewed coffee), which makes for quite the sensorial skincare experience!
Moisturise & Treat
We already know that adequately moisturised skin is critical for maintaining optimal hydration and oil levels to prevent breakouts. That said, layering a heavy moisturiser under your stuffy face mask could end up working against your skin. Ever since masking-up became mandatory, I’ve been doing away with a moisturiser in the morning and ending my routine at a lightweight hydrating serum instead. This pH-balanced (pH 6.0 - 6.5) watery gel essence from Two Halves is bland in all the right ways for sensitive/sensitised skin. The clean formula is free from potential irritants like Sulfates, Parabens, PEGs, Mineral Oils and Fragrances; while loaded with high-performing botanical extracts (e.g. Prunus Yedoenesis Lead, Glycine Soja Seed) for anti-inflammatory, anti-photogaing and antioxidant properties. (Psst: I am personally a massive fan of pH-balanced skincare products, they are pretty much the equivalent of extra-strength panadol for whenever my skin is in retrograde.)
If you’re in the throes of maskne or have acne-prone skin, consider incorporating AHA/BHA into your regimen to help resurface your skin from down under. Powered by a remarkable blend of AHAs and BHAs including Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric, Citric and Saliylic Acid (the classic favourite for its acne-fighting properties), this gel-like serum absorbs quickly to expertly refine and lift dead skin cells. The high-performing formula also contains calming ingredients like Horse Chestnut and White Tea for the most efficacious chemical exfoliation, sans dryness or irritation.
TL;DR: You really need to try this. This targeted acne treatment packs a formidable punch. It’s goals are terrifically straightforward, with laser focus on killing blemish-causing bacteria, absorbing excess serum and quickly calming inflamed skin. While simultaneously preventing scarring and pigmentation in the breakout area -- no more post dry, flaking skin! In fact, use this treatment the moment you notice a budding zit to nip the problem before it blooms. (Psst! This has become a mainstay in my own skincare routine!)
It wouldn’t be me if I left out this personal holy-grail! This non-comedogenic and non-drying wonder from RE:ERTH can be used on the full face (like a serum) and body (e.g. backne). Expertly formulated with Lysozome, Colostrum and water soluble Vitamin A, RE:ERTH's blemish treatment is remarkably well-rounded; alongside targeting breakouts at their root by killing blemish-causing bacteria, the lightweight gel also restores the skin barrier for clearer, smoother mochi skin. I've said it before, but while $80 may seem a tad steep for a spot treatment, this one is definitely worth the investment!
SPF is positively as essential as your face mask. Don’t skimp on using sunscreen, but skip out on heavy formulas to avoid the risk of clogged pores/skin irritation. Instead, try a lightweight and fast-absorbing formula like D Program’s Allerdefense Essence. Equipped with the brand’s unique defense technology, this weightless UV essence offers a triple-layer defense against environmental pollutants, in addition to broad spectrum UV protection. The smoothing and soothing essence is also hypoallergenic and specially formulated for sensitive skin!
While maskne can be frustrating, remember that masking-up remains enduringly essential in our collective fight against COVID-19. As with all transitions, our skin might need a little while to get accustomed to a face covering — combined with some extra TLC, it’ll probably be back to its prime in no time. So mask-up, stay safe and good luck!