These days, you can’t step out of the house without seeing people wearing face masks—which is a good thing, as it is proven to help prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses such as the new coronavirus.
But for some people, the constant wearing of face masks is causing an unpleasant side effect: blemishes around areas covered by the masks. It has become quite common that it’s been dubbed “maskne” on social media.
“Wearing masks, combined with stress from this pandemic, is causing increased moisture for bacteria and organisms to proliferate. We all have tiny little hair follicles on our face, and wearing any kind of protective equipment that’s creating friction and pressure can irritate hair follicles and result in an acne flare,” says Dr. Aivee Aguilar-Teo.
“There is moisture trapped underneath the fabric, which can get worse with humidity, heat, sweat and exercise. This can happen to anyone who has oily and sensitive skin,” she adds.
Nurses and other front-liners are also more prone to it, due to the level of personal protective equipment necessary in order to keep the virus at bay.
The medical term for “maskne” is actually acne mechanica, a type of acne that is triggered in areas that frequently encounter friction, pressure or irritation, in this case from a face mask, says Dr. Raissa Pasion, a dermatologist at You+ Clinic.
Contact dermatitis is another cause that may contribute to dry, itchy skin and peeling, adds Dr. Victoria Belo.
“It may be caused by the direct contact with the mask material, or by an allergic reaction to it,” Belo adds. “The allergy may be caused by the mask materials itself, the rubber components used in the elastic materials or by the chemicals used to clean and sterilize the masks. As to the type of skin, both oily and dry skin can be affected. The difference is that oily skin is more prone to cystic and pustular acne, while dry skin is more prone to irritant contact dermatitis manifesting as rashes and itchiness.”
Wear right mask, skip makeup
The best thing to do is to prevent maskne from occurring in the first place. Since we can’t—or shouldn’t—stop wearing face masks around others in the
foreseeable future, dermatologists recommend masks with light and breathable fabric, such as cotton.
“Health workers, even those who develop acne or irritation from masks, often have no choice but to wear tight-fitting N95 masks and other protective gear,” says Dr. Pasion. “But for the rest of the population, masks made of 100-percent tightly woven cotton fabric or a blend of cotton and silk (shown in a recent study to be better at filtering droplets) have a less irritating effect than those made with synthetic materials. It is better to get the cotton masks with an insertable filter for added protection. Of course, they must be washed after each use.”
Dr. Belo advises to avoid masks printed with ink, as they may cause allergic reactions. A type of mask she particularly favors is the one with built-in air purifier or aeration device (she likes the Alexa mask from @prolabsph), as it allows the wearer and the skin to breathe easier.
It also best to skip wearing makeup underneath the mask to prevent pores from clogging, says Dr. Teo.
You can choose to focus on eyes and brows instead, says Dr. Pasion
The right skincare
It’s highly recommended to wash your face several times a day, followed by a non-greasy moisturizer or serum to prevent maskne. Acne can be treated with antioxidants like vitamin C or products such as clindamycin and salicylic acid that can reduce inflammation and kill bacteria, says Dr. Teo.
Dr. Pasion recommends spot-treating with benzoyl peroxide for the occasional breakouts, but severe flareups require a doctor’s consultation in order to prescribe the right treatment and products. Most dermatologists are available for online consultations.
Dr. Belo points out both oral hygiene and hygiene around the skin are important. “At Belo we recommend the ZO Exfoliating Cleanser to exfoliate and decongest the skin. If the skin is too oily, we add the ZO Oil Control Pads. These pads contain glycolic, salicylic and mandelic acid and is very effective in removing oil that can clog the pores.
“You also want to improve the barrier function of your skin—we recommend the ZO Daily Power Defense. This combination provides maximum-strength maskne prevention solution. For existing cases of severe acne, we have successfully treated severe cases of maskne with our custom-prepared and very affordable Acne Control Kit.”
She says that an additional way to prevent maskne (and harmful bacteria and viruses) is to disinfect your mouth with a good mouthwash. Belo recommends gargling Orahex or a simple solution of 1/5 hydrogen peroxide to 4/5 water for 1-2 minutes.
You+ clinic is at 2F High Street South Corporate Plaza Tower 2, 26th St. Bonifacio Global City; Aivee Clinic, tel. no. (0917) 728-3838; Belo Medical Group on Viber, tel. no. (0999) 885-7273.