‘Maskne’: How to prevent acne and other skin problems caused by face masks

Wearing a face mask has become a common part of everyday life for Canadians due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Masks are lauded by health experts as a crucial method in preventing the spread of infection and they are required to be worn by law when indoors in several jurisdictions across Canada.

But whether you’re wearing one for hours a day as a front-line worker or for short stints simply to go shopping, masks can bring about a host of new skincare challenges, dermatologists told Global News. Some are calling this “maskne.”

There are several changes you can make to your skincare routine to ensure mask-wearing continues to be comfortable, to prevent skin inflammation, and to avoid the dreaded “maskne,” said Dr. Sonya Abdulla, a Toronto-based dermatologist who works at the Dermatology on Bloor clinic. 

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Read more: Which mask should I buy? ⁠From cotton to silk, finding the right fabrics

Abdulla says she’s seen many patients come in due to pandemic-related skincare issues, some of which are from being indoors too often. 

But many other patients have had skin concerns that are directly related to wearing a mask, she said. 

“We’re seeing an increased number of acne consultations since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “With the introduction of masks, we’re creating an environment that promotes inflammation, where we’re getting a disruption of the skin barrier from the occlusion of the increased moisture from the mouth.”

Why wearing a mask could cause acne

Due to the summer heat and humidity, putting on a mask can create an environment on one’s face that increases sweat, leading to a “perfect storm” that causes skin inflammation, she said. 

Acne mechanica is the form of acne most people are used to getting, but other acne-like skin conditions can also arise due to wearing a mask, including perioral dermatitis or rosacea, she said. 

5:21 Comfortable and stylish mask hacks

Comfortable and stylish mask hacks

“Acne continues to be the most common thing that is presenting due to increased use of masks,” she said. 

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More people have had questions about skin irritation due to masks, particularly health-care workers who wear them all day, said Dr. Jennifer Beecker, a dermatologist at the Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

“Some of the things we’re seeing are pressure marks and chaffing … and now we’re seeing more rosacea-like rashes,” she said. 

Choosing the right mask for your skin

It’s important to understand that wearing a mask remains one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, said Abdulla. The frequency with which you have to wear them means you should invest in a style that is the most gentle on your skin, she explained.

Read more: Mask myths, debunked: No, wearing a mask won’t ‘shut down’ your immune system

“Opt for a mask that is made out of cotton, or cotton with a silk liner,” she said. “Those natural fibres tend to be more gentle on skin.”

Reusable masks require frequent washing, but do not put on your mask and use it before it completely dries, she warned.

“If you’re wearing a damp mask, you’re just adding to that moisture,” she said. 

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Keeping skin healthy while using a mask

There are a number of ways to address skincare concerns when it comes to masks, so there is no reason not to wear one, said Beecker.

If you need to wear a mask for hours at work, avoid wearing any makeup below the eyes and try not to wear a heavy moisturizer during the day, she suggested.

“Use a lighter, water-based lotion,” she said. “Always have clean skin if possible before you put on a mask.”

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Poll: Most Canadians support mandatory masks, vaccines

Upgrading your skincare routine to be mask-friendly can also work to prevent any mask-related skin issues, said Abdulla.

“Keeping things simple is going to be the best way to go. This means using gentle cleansers, that are non-foaming, that may contain ceramides that are a natural component of our skin barrier,” she said. 

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Using a water-based moisturizer is also important to keep skin hydrated. People with oily to combination skin types should look for a gel-like texture while those with dry skin can use a thicker lotion, she explained. 

Read more: Should masks be mandatory? It depends

Ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide are also both helpful anti-inflammatory ingredients to look for when choosing a moisturizer, Abdulla said.

“This is a scenario where you’d want to skip things like facial oils and cleansing oils … or even coconut oils, to treat any of these forms of acne or inflammation,” she said. Avoid products with too many fragrances as well, she said. 

While exfoliation may be recommended in general to treat acne, this is a situation due to mask-wearing, where exfoliation could impair the function of the skin barrier and lead to more inflammation and acne, she said.  Any kind of skin scrubs need to be avoided, said Beecker.

“Toners would be another thing I’d try to stay away from, try and let the skin be itself,” she said. 

“Use a benzoyl peroxide wash or a cleanser to cut down on bacteria that’s on the skin,” she said.

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A gentle hydrating cleanser is a good option if you haven’t developed any skin concerns yet, but you want to be preventative, said Beecker.

Above all: do not stop wearing a mask when you need to because you’re developing skin issues, Beecker emphasized. 

“Don’t skimp on the [mask]. A lot of these things, you can work around if you’re getting some of that ‘maskne’,” she said.

0:49 This is what makes a good face mask, according to experts

This is what makes a good face mask, according to experts

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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