Once you make it past your teens and twenties, you may think your struggles with acne are finally over. The reality is each phase of life comes with new challenges and, unfortunately, some of them carry over from one phase into the next. As many 22% of women aged 26 to 44 experience adult acne.
Though acne can affect people at any age, there are certain conditions that can increase your risk. Even with daily skin care, factors like chronic stress and wearing tight-fitting clothing can contribute to breakouts.
In the midst of the pandemic, these conditions have become common. Masks have been identified as one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, wearing a mask for long periods of time can lead to a new problem – mask-related acne or “maskne.”
What is Maskne and What Causes It?
Maskne, the nickname given to mask-related acne, is not a new thing. Dr. Amy Kassouf, the dermatologist for the Cleveland Clinic, says it has always been an issue for professionals who wear a mask regularly at work. Kassouf suggests, however, that both the incidence and awareness of it has increased over the past few months now that mask use has risen among the general public.
Acne develops when the hair follicles become plugged with oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells. Dr. Nazanin Saedi, board-certified dermatologist at Thomas Jefferson University, suggests breathing for hours while wearing a mask creates a humid environment that can become “a breeding ground for acne.” The friction from wearing a mask can also clog pores, increasing the formation of blackheads, and promoting flare-ups of other skin conditions like rosacea and perioral dermatitis.
Simple Tips to Prevent and Treat Maskne
You don’t have to choose between protecting your health and protecting your skin. By taking a few simple steps you can minimize your risk of developing maskne without putting anyone at risk.
Here are some simple tips to help prevent acne from developing under your mask:
- Take the mask off when you’re at home and away from other people. Give your skin time to breathe and recover from the excess friction.
- If you wear a reusable cloth mask, wash it frequently to get rid of acne-causing bacteria. Keep several cloth masks on hand so you can wear a fresh one every day.
- Make sure your cloth mask is completely dry before you put it back on – if it isn’t dry the added moisture can make acne-causing conditions worse for the skin under the mask.
- Wash your face daily using a mild cleanser. If you wear a mask all day, consider keeping facial cleansing wipes on hand to clean and refresh your skin throughout the day.
- Keep your skin hydrated and consider using a barrier cream. Creams made with hyaluronic acid help maintain your skin’s natural moisture balance which may offer some protection.
Prevention is often the best medicine, so keeping your mask clean and washing your face may help protect you from maskne. If you do develop maskne, the following proven acne treatments may help:
- Benzoyl Peroxide: Typically used for mild acne, benzoyl peroxide is a drying agent commonly found over-the-counter at drug stores.
- Retinoids: Available in creams, gels, and lotions, retinoids are derived from vitamin A. These acne treatments are available by prescription and work by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.
- Oral Antibiotics: Often used in combination with retinoids, oral antibiotics can kill excess bacteria. Topical antibiotics typically aren’t recommended as a standalone treatment for acne.
- Oral Contraceptives: For women whose acne worsens during their menstrual cycle, oral contraceptives may help. Contraceptives that combine estrogen and progesterone work best.
- Spironolactone: Similar to birth control, spironolactone acts on the hormones and may be an effective option for women whose excess androgens contribute to acne.
In addition to treating maskne with proven methods, be good to your skin. Use gentle, fragrance-free cleansers and avoid harsh scrubs. Choose products that support the skin’s natural moisture barrier and avoid touching your face as much as possible. You may also want to take a second glance at your daily skincare regimen. Chronic stress can cause your skin physiology to change, so some products you’ve been using might be making your skin more sensitive or prone to inflammation.