Maskne: How to combat the acne breakouts caused by face masks

Whether we’re at the supermarket, at work, on the bus or in an Uber, Albertans have been carrying out their civic duty to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks in public spaces, as mandated since Aug. 1.

It’s for good reason: the World Health Organization cites masks as part of a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission of the virus and save lives

Unfortunately, some have noticed that we may have inadvertently caused the spread of something else: the dreaded “maskne.”

That’s shorthand for “mask acne,” and it’s the masking side-effect that launched a thousand self-conscious tweets.

“I would say that since the beginning of August [to] mid-August, we’ve really seen a lot of requests for consultations to help with acne on the lower face,” said Marie Bertrand, the founder of the Skin Science Clinic in Calgary.

“About 50 per cent of clients who come in have some form of maskne, currently.”

What causes maskne

When we wear a mask, it can create a microclimate against our skin, Bertrand said.

And inside that microclimate, there is more humidity, oil, sweat, dirt and other skin debris that can nestle into our pores, wait for about a week and then burst forth in a zit. Or, a cluster of zits.

“[The microclimate] really starts to have an impact on the skin that is underneath,” said Bertrand.

“One of the first things that happens is that pores get clogged. And what we know is that every clogged pore we have is a potential future pimple.”

But wait, there’s more.

Acne mechanica occurs when hair follicles become irritated and inflamed due to friction, pressure and occlusion.

According to Bertrand, this is the second stage of maskne, and it happens after our clogged pores are subjected to friction from the mask itself.

“[The friction] will irritate those clogged pores, which in turn will lead to active acne lesions,” Bertrand said.

How the menace can be stopped

The good news, according to Bertrand, is that we can actually combat maskne, and the steps are pretty simple.

The first rule-of-thumb is to start each day with a clean mask — either a freshly laundered fabric one, or an out-of-the-box disposable one — to keep dirt and bacteria from accumulating inside.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also advises people to change their masks as soon as possible if they become damp or dirty.

“It’s really important, on a daily basis, to have a mask that is clean,” Bertrand said. 

“We don’t want people to overly obsess about changing masks absolutely every five minutes; that’s not the point here. You can wear your mask all day, but I stress the importance of wearing a clean mask every time.”

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, if you can skip makeup altogether on days when you’ll be wearing a mask, it is ideal for keeping pores unclogged.

If makeup is necessary, use only products labelled “non-comedogenic” or “oil free,” the website recommends.

The first rule-of-thumb to prevent maskne is to start each day with a clean mask — either a freshly laundered fabric one, or an out-of-the-box disposable one — to keep dirt and bacteria from accumulating inside. (Shutterstock)

Bertrand said that a gentle cleanser used twice a day helps whisk away dirt, and is especially important to remember at the end of the day, after you’ve been wearing your mask for hours.

“When you come back home, you want to cleanse your skin,” Bertrand said.

Exfoliating several times a week can also go a long way to keeping pores unclogged.

Applying a product that contains an ingredient like salicylic acid and can be left on your skin, such as a toner or serum, is a good way to prevent future acne lesions.

And if you do get a breakout, don’t panic and don’t pick. Head down to the drugstore and get a spot treatment, instead.

“l look for active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, sulphur and salicylic acid that will really help to kill bacteria, to reduce the redness and to help the skin heal, which is really important because we don’t want you to scar.”

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