COVID-19 has added a new word to our vocabulary: maskne. Yes, “maskne” – mask acne – is now a thing. 2020 has brought with it anxiety and stress that have done its damage on clear skin in addition to the worry wrinkles that are now becoming a permanent part of our forehead. Unique to this pandemic, many are experiencing breakouts under their masks, especially around the mouth, chin and jaw.
UNDERSTANDING MASKNE: CAUSE & SYMPTOMS
Remember when a face mask was something you used to help clear your acne? Unfortunately, a frustrating side effect of mandated face masks is making many people break out in the areas under the mask. While it is important to understand that not wearing masks is not an option, understanding the cause and symptoms will help you prevent and treat maskne. It’s important to remember that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend wearing masks as a protective measure when in public.
While certain rashes are related specifically to COVID-19, maske is not caused by COVID-19, but is an unfortunate side effect specific to face mask wearing. Maskne is commonly periorificial dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and acne mechanica. These skin conditions lead to rashes, acne-like breakouts and flaking/scaling on the part of the face where the mask is worn. Face masks, especially medical grade ones, form a tight seal around the face. The pressure from the covering causes friction that may produce swelling. Irritated skin around the mouth, cheeks, chin, jaw and nose result from inflammation that obstructs the pores. Additionally, we all sweat more with a mask on and this perspiration and accumulated dirt can lead to clogged pores and acne. When you wear your mask properly, as we suggest you do, your breath out creates a warm and moist environment that may lead to irritation and bacterial growth, especially if you re-use your masks and they aren’t cleaned in between uses.
When is “maskne” or mask acne more than just acne?! There is a broad differential for the facial breakouts seen while wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include the following:
- Traditional acne: the capturing of moisture and heat will change the microbiome of the facial skin, resulting in an increase of acne lesions.
- Hormonal acne: this is acne that is seen with the increase in stress hormones produced by the challenges associated with everyday accommodations made for COVID-19.
- Occlusive acne: this used to be referred to as “acne cosmetica” or acne aggravated by cosmetics due to their occlusive nature. Some masks provide an occlusive barrier due to fabric, duration of use and accumulation of oils on the material.
- Perioral dermatitis: this variant presents with small red bumps around the mouth and chin area. While appearing to be like acne, previous studies have shown this to be due to another process and is treated differently from acne.
- Rosacea: this is an acne-like eruption seen on the central face that is exacerbated by anything that increases blood flow to the face, such as wearing a mask .
- Seborrheic dermatitis: there is a variant of this condition that manifests with red bumps on the side of the nose and upper lip that appears to be acne but is due to a build up of a yeast like organism on the skin.
These are some of the conditions leading to breakouts on the skin and are treated differently depending on the condition. If you are frustrated by the way your skin looks, please come see us!
PREVENTING MASKNE BREAKOUTS
While masks come with plenty of skin problems, with a little bit of preparation you can prevent and treat these problems.
Wash Your Face. Prevention is the best medicine. It is important to start and end the day with a good skincare routine. It is recommended that you cleanse, tone and moisturize your face before wearing a mask. Start the day off with clean skin and wear a protective hydrating moisturizer. Regular use of lip balm also creates a barrier against moisture from saliva, humidity and sweat.
It is equally important to develop a good nighttime skincare routine. After a full day of wearing a mask, your skin needs a good cleansing – but be gentle. While it may be tempting to reach for the acne cleaners from your teenage years, your skin is already irritated by the mask, and harsh chemicals may make it worse. It’s best to eschew any new skincare products at this time and if you do reach for acne specific cleansers, pick up some salicylic acid pads for quick face washes through the day.
Use A Clean Mask. Disposable masks are exactly that – disposable. They are designed for one time use. Plus, if you aren’t a frontline medical worker, we recommend sticking with cloth masks. However, cloth masks, while designed to be reusable, should be laundered between uses. That mask has absorbed your sweat, your saliva, your snot, your makeup and your moisturizer, plus whatever else it has come into contact with if you take it off and put it down. No wonder reusing masks and wearing dirty masks are the primary cause of acne. If you prefer cloth masks, it’s a good idea to choose ones made of light and natural materials that will let the skin breathe more and may minimize maskne. You can also plan to take safe mask breaks throughout the day to allow your skin to breathe. If you’ve been wearing your mask for a long period of time, let your safe mask break be a reminder to swap it out for a new one.
Minimize Makeup. Cosmetics are full of oils and emulsifiers and tend to clog pores even when they claim to be non-comedogenic. Consider skipping the concealer and foundation completely on your lower face. It’s going to be covered by your mask anyway. It is especially important to forego the makeup if you need to wear a mask for prolonged periods of time.
Don’t Pop That Pimple! You already know that a zit that you pop or play with takes longer to heal. Squeezing and popping acne can also spread bacteria and make the breakout larger. If you already have acne or feel that it’s impending, spot treat with acne patches or over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide spot treatments. Bonus of the mask is no one will see you wearing them!
Reduce Stress. Ongoing stress is a major factor in severe acne, and will disrupt your healthy diet and sleep habits. The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused sleep disturbances and psychological symptoms. Anxiety and insomnia can trigger acne, and while it’s always important to manage your mental health, it is even more important during a pandemic to focus on self-care and being kind to yourself. If you don’t already have a healthy diet and good sleep habits, it’s time to focus on improvement.
Use A Good Hand Sanitizer. Touching your face with dirty hands has always been an acne trigger. While washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face is essential to protect yourself from COVID-19, it will also help minimize acne! If you find it difficult to not touch your face, it’s important to use a good hand sanitizer regularly.
See A Professional. If the tips and advice in this article are already a part of your daily skin care routine, it may be time to seek professional advice. If you are experiencing cysts or anything that smells foul, is painful or unusually warm, it’s time to make an appointment with the dermatologist. Blind pimples are deep enough to potentially put pressure on nerves and cause pain. Deep abscesses require specialized treatment.
At Adult & Pediatric Dermatology, we remind you to wear a clean mask, adopt a good skincare routine, and make an appointment with our caring professionals if your maskne is concerning. Contact our office today at 913-469-1115 to schedule an appointment.