‘Maskne.’ The nickname may be cute, but the reality is not: Unsightly pimples that erupt in our face-mask zone. “But,” notes Sharon Hochhauser, a board-certified family nurse practitioner who specializes in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC, “we can take steps to prevent mask-related breakouts so that we feel comfortable wearing our masks and confident about taking them off when it’s safe.”
As research has increased on the role face masks play in preventing COVID-19, so have the number of Americans who are putting them on, with a recent CDC report noting that three out of four in the U.S. are now donning the protective wear.
“We can further improve quality-of-life,” says Hochhauser, “and reduce stress, if we know that there are steps to avoid skin breakouts from wearing face masks.”
Acne is this country’s number-one skin problem: The American Academy of Dermatology reports that as many as 50 million of us deal with the condition. “And it’s not just teens,” explains Hochhauser. “The causes of acne – genes, hormones, lifestyle, environment – can trigger breakouts across the decades.”
Pimples pop up when our pores get clogged with the skin oil sebum and dead skin cells. If the skin bacteria p. acnes are added to the mix, pimples typically become more severe.
“It’s important,” Hochhauser emphasizes, “to make sure that our face mask isn’t creating an environment that produces clogged pores or irritation. We want to practice preventative maintenance so that face masks don’t contribute to acne.”
With that in mind, Hochhauser offers the following suggestions.
6 Tips to Wear Your Face Mask Without Worrying About a Breakout
1. Give your face extra TLC: “Preventing ‘maskne,’” says Hochhauser, “starts with a supportive skin care routine. We may be tempted to wash our face more, but over washing can irritate our skin and strip away protective sebum – signaling our body to increase production, which can clog pores. In general, we should wash with a gentle non-comedogenic cleanser twice a day, avoiding scrubbing and hot water. Using a cleanser with salicylic acid one of the times we cleanse can help keep pores unclogged. After washing, we’ll want to pat dry and immediately moisturize – oil-free gel is a good choice unless we have dry skin, and products that include ceramides or hyaluronic acid can aid in protection. This step locks in moisture and creates a supportive barrier between our skin and our face mask. To further prevent clogged pores, a gentle chemical exfoliant, for example one with glycolic acid, can be used twice a week.”
2. Get fit! “A secure, comfortable face-mask,” explains Hochhauser, “reduces rubbing. This is important to avoid irritation that can inflame our skin, contributing to acne. Also, a good fit will prevent us from adjusting our mask, which can result in the cross-transfer of germs, oil, and debris.”
3. Material matters: “The inner layer of our mask should be soft ‘hydrophilic’ material that absorbs moisture,” explains Hochhauser, “like cotton. This helps reduce moisture so that it does not get trapped and contribute to clogged pores. We want to stay away from synthetic linings, which can irritate our skin.”
4. Keep it clean! “Washing our masks after each use,” advises Hochhauser, “removes the oil and debris that build up on the lining. This minimizes the chance of clogged pores.”
5. Make-up? Sunscreen? Read the small print: “All of the ingredients we apply to our face should be non-irritating,” says Hochhauser, “Thanks to the ‘athleisure’ trend, there are products designed with that in mind, for example mineral-based sunscreen-and-foundation combos designed to protect without clogging or irritating. Remember to carefully check that products are non-comedogenic and oil free.”
6. Keep your sebaceous glands happy: “That means taking time to relax and being mindful about overdoing ‘comfort food,’” advises Hochhauser. “The hormones triggered by stress can kick sebum production into overdrive. So, can high-glycemic foods, like sweets, white rice, pasta, potatoes, and bread.”Feeling comfortable and confident about using our face mask,” concludes Hochhauser, “can reduce the worry of ‘maskne’ and add to our peace of mind.”