Face masks are officially the ‘it’ accessory of 2020—and considering how important they are in keeping us safe amidst the coronavirus pandemic, their streak will likely continue into 2021, too.
Despite all of the critical benefits of wearing a mask, though, they do come with one unfortunate potential side effect: ‘maskne,’ or acne caused by wearing your mask.
“We’re seeing more patients who are developing acne on their face in areas that are in contact with their mask,” says Rajani Katta, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. “For most people, this is due to a combination of trapped oil, sweat, and skin products clogging the pores and contributing to skin inflammation.” Two other culprits behind inflamed skin: the friction and pressure that come with wearing a mask.
Regardless of annoying skin symptoms, “it’s so important to follow CDC guidelines and protect yourself and others by always wearing a mask in public and when in close contact with other people,” says microbiologist Laura Marinelli, Ph.D. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to deal with breakouts, though. “By taking a few simple steps, you can protect your skin and make sure that this annoying skin condition is one less thing you have to worry about in 2020,” she says.
Consider these seven tips to kick maskne to the curb—and keep you skin as happy as possible beneath your mask.
1. Wash your face before and after putting on your mask
First things first, “you don’t want to put a mask on if you have dirt or oil already on your skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “This can become trapped and block the pores.”
Since it’s inevitable that some sweat and sebum (oil) will build up while you have your mask on, remove your face covering when you get home and cleanse again, he adds.
Cleanse with a product that contains salicylic acid and hydroxy acid, which effectively remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin, to keep the follicles clear before donning your mask, Zeichner recommends. (Derma E’s Very Clear Acne Cleanser contains two percent salicylic acid to promote clear skin.)
2. Rotate And Wash your masks
It’s not just your skin that needs the TLC. “It’s very important to take care of your reusable face masks,” says Katta. “I recommend having several masks that you rotate in and out because it’s so important to launder them on a regular basis.”
So, how often should you wash your masks, then, you ask? A good rule of thumb: “Treat the mask as you would any other garment that comes in direct contact with your skin,” Zeichner says. (Ahem, like your underwear.)
“When washing your mask, it’s best to launder in hot water and dry on high heat in order to kill any bacteria,” Katta recommends. To further minimize the risk of irritation, opt for a fragrance- and dye-free detergent, too.
3. Wear less makeup
“One good way to reduce the likelihood of developing maskne is by wearing less makeup or skipping makeup entirely—particularly full-coverage foundation, which can be especially pore-clogging if you’re wearing a mask,” says Marinelli. “An excess of cosmetic products can be irritating under a mask, so if you know you will be wearing a mask for much of the day, simplify your morning skin-care routine.”
If you don’t want to go completely bare-faced, switch to a lighter, oil-free formulation or non-comedogenic tinted moisturizer, she recommends.
4. Wear sunscreen
“The most common causes of maskne are irritation, overheating, and sun exposure,” says Orit Markowitz, M.D., associate professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Though cloth masks have limited SPF, people often forget to apply sunscreen under their mask, which can cause flare-ups of rosacea-based acne, in particular.”
The bottom line: Although it may not seem necessary, slather on your go-to SPF before heading outside masked up.
5. Pick a mask made from natural fibers
Think the material of your face mask doesn’t matter much? Think again. “Natural fibers like cotton are less likely to cause irritation to the skin,” Zeichner says.
One material to avoid: polyester, which is synthetic, adds Katta.
Want to make your skin-care routine more maskne-proof? “Use a gentle exfoliator two or three times a week helps remove the dead skin cells and debris that build up under a mask and clog your pores,” says Marinelli. (One to try: Shea Moisture’s Raw Shea Butter Facial Wash & Scrub.)
Just note that “if you opt for chemical exfoliators, such as AHA or BHAs, make sure to use those products only at night,” she adds. Donning your mask right after applying them can spur irritation.
7. Incorporate face masks (the skin-care kind) into your routine
Another skin-care ritual that can keep your skin more balanced beneath your face covering is the right face mask (you know, the kind you apply and rinse off).
“Ingredients like clay and charcoal are super-absorbent and can help remove excess oil from the skin,” says Zeichner. “At the same time, they provide calming benefits to inflamed skin.”
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