Maskne (mask acne)

This is a skin condition which arises from the need for many more people to wear face masks for prolonged periods. Although this isn’t a skin condition which is affecting many of my clients, I thought it might be helpful to take an overview of its cause and effects.

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There are three major ways in which the the skin is affected by being unnaturally enclosed for a length of time; put simply, mask-wearing is an unhealthy environment for the skin.

  • Increased temperature leads to excess perspiration
  • Trapped moisture/sebum cannot evaporate
  • Absence of light on the skin hinders cellular respiration

These combined factors provide a breeding ground for usually harmless surface bacteria to multiply and penetrate into the skin’s pores. They become irritants and the skin’s defence mechanism goes into overdrive, producing increased blood circulation, pore dilation and perspiration.

This has given rise to three types of maskne:

1. Acne Mechanica
2. Allergic Dermatitis
3. Acne Vulgaris

Although grouped under the umbrella of maskne each condition requires a specific treatment.

1. Acne Mechanica – this condition is created by the constant rubbing or chaffing of the mask’s material against the skin’s surface. This produces inflammation, senstivity and micro-tears compromising the skin’s protective barrier. The skin needs to be cleansed both morning and evening to remove surface debris and allow the penetration of calming serums or topical creams. The aim is to introduce a protective layer of emollient (containing anti-inflammatory ingredients) to reduce the chaffing. The best type of mask to help alleviate this condition would be a natural, organic material (cotton/silk) which allows the skin to breathe and reduces irritation. These type of masks must be washed daily after each use and in a non-biological, fragrance-free detergent. (Tip – treat them as you would your underwear). Try to remove the mask whenever possible to expose the skin to the air.

2. Allergic Dermatitis is a consequence of a reaction to the material of the mask itself. This reaction encourages the skin to produce excess oiliness, congestion and inflammation in the skin leading to pimples, whiteheads for example. Countering this problem requires the use of anti-inflammatory topical agents – exfoliators that are non-comedogenic (i.e. doesn’t block the pores) and ceramides that provide a protective barrier. As for treating the effects of acne mechanica use an organic (cotton/silk) mask where possible and wash it after every use.

3. Acne Vulgaris is the most commonly known and recognisable form of acne. It is a systemic condition (hormone-related) and is particularly aggravated by mask wearing. The facial coverings increase the skin’s oiliness and create inflammation, perspiration and congestion resulting in a biological zoo for this skintype. The important point (as with the above conditions) is that sufferers should use an efficient exfoliating cleanser every morning and night. The ingredients for such cleaners should include non-comedogenic emollients, glycolic and salicylic acids, benzyol peroxide (this can cause staining on cotton masks so sulphur is a good substitute). Spot treatment sticks/roll-ons can be applied to specific outbreaks to accelerate healing.

I have to emphasise that for each of these skin conditions it is important to cleanse morning and evening with an appropriate cleanser to remove surface skincells and allow the skin to abosorb the products required to combat the effects of prolonged mask wearing. Despite the advice of Dr Jaskaren Midha in the Daily Mail article (see link below) – and though it may seem counter intuitive – I do not recommend a double cleansing regime because this can contribute to over-stimulation of the sebaceous glands which thus produces more oil. A good efficient cleanser will be suffice, especially if you’re not wearing make-up, a tinted moisturiser or BB cream. The least amount of stimulation on this skintype the better.
Makeup should be avoided if possible, but you can use a tinted moisturiser or BB cream as an alternative.

SPF 30 should be applied as the last application to protect the vitamin C and collagen of the skin. Unfortunately there are currently no masks which have a SPF component.

I appreciate that that some of the information and terms I’ve provided makes this a little complicated for a general blog. Correctly identifying these different conditions is critical in determining a course of treatment and that process does require specialist skills. It is why I would recommend consulting a skincare specialist to ensure that you are treating the condition correctly particularly to avoid any long term effects, such as scarring or hypersensitivity to your skin.

Oh, for the day when we can again show our faces (uncovered) to the waiting world!

BBC article 

Daily Mail overview