Masks have been fashion’s break-out star in 2020, becoming the ultimate accessory to stay safe and, in turn, also the medium for personal expression.
However, for many, mask-wearing has been a minefield of anxiety, from feelings of guilt (we didn’t want to divert them from the front-line workers) to superficial self-consciousness. Then there are the side effects – maskne, skin irritation and breathing issues – to contend with.
What Causes Maskne?
Moisture – When confined beneath the fabric of a mask, your breath creates a humid environment. According to Dr. Nazanin Saedi, Director of Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, humidity is the enemy of clear skin. “Breathing for hours with a mask on creates humidity. That humidity becomes a breeding ground for acne.”
Bacteria – Sweat, oil, and makeup can become trapped under the mask and clog pores. And bacteria is constantly being reintroduced into your skin thanks to your hands. Every time you adjust your mask or even just put it on, you’re introducing pore-clogging oil and dirt into your pores from your hands. Those clogged pores can result in—you guessed it —acne.
Friction – As you go about your day, your mask moves around your face, damaging the skin’s protective layer, sometimes called the “skin barrier.” And without that protective barrier, it’s easier for bacteria and grime to settle into your pores and make pimple babies.
Warm weather – Heat and humidity can exacerbate acne, inside and outside the mask. Higher temperatures increase your face’s sweat and oil protection. And the more oil and sweat, the easier it is for bacteria to turn into blemishes.
Cold weather – Your mask can make maskne in heat or sleet. Cold weather can dry out your skin, making it easier for the mask to chafe the skin and break down and welcome pimple-causing irritants into your pores.
How can I tell if it’s maskne or hormonal acne?
You’ll notice that maskne bumps are typically on the surface and not deep within the skin. Also, you’ll notice that the location of the bumps are typically in line with the areas of contact that the face mask is usually in contact with: the upper lip, the nose, the smile lines, and the chin areas, in particular.
But the good news is there’s things you can do to prevent irritation, techniques to incorporate and ingredients that should be avoided. Here’s what dermatologists and skin experts advise.
Switch up Your Mask
One of the first steps in preventing maskne is choosing the right face masks. Dermatologists all agree that you should stick with lightweight cotton or silk, both of which are gentler on the skin and create less friction than synthetics like polyester and rayon. Another thing to do is get a mask that fits well. As celebrity facialist and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar explains, “I’ve noticed people constantly adjusting their mask every 20 seconds, which only makes friction worse and your mask dirtier.”
Silk appears to be the gentle, soft, skin-friendly alternative to the bog-standard disposable or nylon versions popping up everywhere. For years, we’ve been getting our beauty sleep on pillowcases and eye masks made from the soft, lustrous fibre, with dermatologists weighing in that this delicate, smooth texture provides much less friction and tugging on the skin, a benefit that, of course, extends to the face mask. Plus, it’s less likely than cotton to absorb moisture, which means less drying and inflammation.
The bottom line is the soft silk designs do seem more comfortable to wear, are proven to be kinder to your skin, and look pretty too, so we can wear them for longer periods – without all the incessant fuss and fidgeting.
How to wash your mask:
Your face isn’t the only thing you need to wash! In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing cloth masks after each use, which helps remove oils and dead skin that collect inside the mask. To do so, use warm water and a gentle detergent that doesn’t irritate the skin.
Look for detergents that are free of added colors and fragrances, which are common skin irritants. This will ensure that you’re being gentle on sensitive or irritated skin and will reduce the chances of developing a reaction like contact dermatitis.