In recent months due to the pandemic most of us have experienced increased stress levels which can affect all areas of health including our skin. Stress contributes to flare-ups of pre-existing acne and other skin conditions, but in addition to this we are seeing “maskne” which is acne caused by friction, rubbing and occlusion of the skin from outside forces e.g. by wearing masks or sunglasses. Masks can trap oil, sweat, humidity, bacteria and dirt and cause the skin to become occluded which in turn can trigger outbreaks of spots, blemishes, dermatitis, skin irritation and other conditions including rosacea. This is worse in the summer months as the increased oil production, heat and humidity exacerbate this. The breakouts are usually where the mask is fitting- predominantly along the bridge of the nose, cheeks and chin.
Acne is significantly associated with self-esteem, and even having mild acne can have a big effect on our mood, interpersonal relationships, how we are at work, and social behaviours.
Masks are now part of everyday life for all of us with face coverings being mandatory on public transport, and recommended in public spaces where distancing is not possible. Prior to the pandemic, skin issues relating to masks were predominantly seen in healthcare workers and sports people, with irritation, breakouts, breakdown and bruising of the skin. Now this can affect everyone, so it is important to optimise the health of our skin and review our practice and implications of mask wearing.
Prevention is always better than the cure.
- If you are wearing a cloth mask we would recommend 100% cotton or a silk mask.
- Wash daily at 60° for cotton masks, and completely dry this before wearing it again.
- Store your mask in a zip lock bag during the day to keep it as clean as possible.
- Consider buying a few masks so you can easily swap them, and some even come embedded with zinc oxide which is an anti-inflammatory and soothing to the skin.
- If you have a mask with a filter, replace this at least once a week.
- If you are exercising, or you sweat during the day change the mask immediately.
- If you are wearing a disposable mask try to replace it as often as possible, or when it becomes moist.
- For the tight fitting medical masks e.g. N95, you could consider applying silicone gel strips to sit under the pressure points of the mask to protect the skin and minimise irritation. Do not use petroleum-based products as these can interfere with the seal of the mask.
Skin care tips:
- Use a mild fragrance free cleanser (e.g. brands like Cetaphil or CeraVe) with lukewarm water morning and night or cleanse with micellar water.
- If your skin is oily or prone to breakouts try a foaming cleanser, if it is dry or irritated try a cream cleanser.
- Cleanse the skin with your fingertips, and pat your face dry with a clean towel.
- Try to avoid over washing your face which can also cause flare-ups of acne.
- Wash your hands thoroughly regularly throughout the day, and avoid touching your face as much as possible.
- Wash your face before putting on your mask.