Whether we like it or not, it appears that wearing protective face masks are here to stay, at least for the time being. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard enough to breathe in a face mask, no less worry about breakouts and acne caused by wearing a mask. Add to that the stress of dealing with the past few months, and your skin is dealing with multiple factors that can set it up for inflammation, breakouts, and acne.
If you can believe it, there is an entirely new word to describe this unwelcome phenomenon: maskne. Friction, sweat, humidity, oil, and makeup are a few of the triggers of maskne that can occur on your lower face. These areas include the bridge of the nose, cheeks, chin, and hairline.
Today I’d like to offer some tips to navigate wearing non-medical face masks and how to avoid facial irritation from friction (called acne mechanica) and other factors that can lead to blemishes, breakouts, and acne. Whether your mask is reusable, disposable, cloth, or even a bandana, there are steps you can take to protect your skin and minimize the chances of maskne.
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Wash Your Face
Let’s start with the basics. Before you apply your face mask be sure to wash your face (and your hands). A gentle pH balanced cleanser is your best bet to remove dirt and oil and will allow you to start with a clean canvas prior to wearing a mask. Try Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gentle Cleansing Lotion for Sensitive Skin or Missha Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Visible Deep Cleanser, which is pH balanced at 5.5.
Protect Your Skin’s Barrier
Your skin’s barrier is the outermost layer of skin which forms a layer of protection, against dirt, bacteria, and other pollutants. It helps your skin stay hydrated and retain moisture. Wearing a face mask can irritate and disrupt your skin’s barrier. Bacteria can enter your pores and clog them leading to irritation and breakouts. Skin can become dehydrated, flaky, and red. As a result, your skin overcompensates by producing more oil which can clog pores even further.
A gentle hydrating serum containing hyaluronic acid and a light-weight moisturizer will hydrate and protect your skin. These products will help your skin to retain water, minimizing irritation. New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD tells Refinery 29 that even individuals with oily skin should consider applying a light moisturizer to hydrate the skin to support the skin’s barrier.
Consider Skipping Makeup Under Your Face Mask
If you apply makeup to your entire face, wearing a mask may cause friction that presses your makeup into your pores, resulting in breakouts. I’ve been reluctant to give up makeup on the lower half of my face, but have learned that it’s in my best interest to avoid wearing makeup at all under a mask if I plan on wearing the mask for a longer period of time.
Avoiding makeup on the lower half of your face not only avoids staining reusable masks but also reduces the chances of clogging your pores. I just pay extra attention to my eyes, and brows to create a defined makeup look on the upper half of my face.
Don’t Forget Your Lips
Don’t forget that your lips need hydration and protection too. I usually apply this simple and affordable lip balm treatment under face masks. It is formulated with Organic Shea Butter, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil & Antioxidant Vitamin E that hydrates and conditions the lips.
Be Careful With Active Ingredients
Chemical exfoliants like salicylic (a beta-hydroxy acid) or lactic or glycolic acid (alpha-hydroxy acids) exfoliate dead skin cells which can build up and block pores. You may be tempted to use chemical exfoliants more often when you wear a mask, but be careful not to overdo it. Overexfoliating can lead to more irritation and breakouts.
Before using these treatments, be sure that your skin is not actively irritated or your skin’s barrier is compromised. If your skin is experiencing these issues, you may want to temporarily avoid or reduce the frequency of usage of stronger skincare treatments such as those containing retinoids and exfoliating acids.
Spot treating acne will avoid the need to dry out your entire face. Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment is a 2% salicylic acid acne treatment formulated to reduce blemish size and redness within 4 hours. Or try a blemish patch, such as Peace Out Acne Healing Dots since you won’t be able to see it under your mask anyway.
Related: A Guide to Acids in Skincare
Wear a Clean Face Mask
Make sure that you are wearing a fresh, clean mask every time you wear one. If you are re-using a cloth mask, make sure you wash it every time you wear it. Try to use a gentle fabric detergent, avoid bleach, and skip the fabric softeners and dryer cloths which can leave potentially irritating residue on your face mask.
At least today there are many more face masks on the market than there were a few months ago. If you have particularly sensitive skin, you can look for a face mask that is breathable and gentle. Silk face masks are so incredibly soft and minimize irritation. (I can breathe much better in silk mask than other masks.) Cotton masks are also a good choice for easily irritated skin.
I found some fantastic masks on Etsy that range from basic cotton to super-soft silk and fashionable bandana styles that should help minimize breakouts with their breathable fabrics:
This cute floral print cotton mask is breathable and has a flexible wire nose piece.
This beige/grey floral cotton print face mask washes well, is gentle on the ears, and comes in plenty of fabric/design options.
This silver double layer silk face mask is so luxe (with adjustable earloops) yet very affordable.
This stylish and elegant chiffon bandana mask can be worn as a scarf and is easy to breathe in.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Acne and Breakouts While Wearing A Face Mask
If you are having issues with your skin due to wearing face masks that don’t respond to your normal skincare treatments, it may be time to speak to a dermatologist. Luckily, seeing a specialist can often happen from the comfort of your own home with the increase in availability of virtual visits over the past few months. For more information on dealing with acne, see these tips from the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Have you had issues with maskne this year? What are your tips for treating it? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading and until next time…