Curbing the “maskne” epidemic

Trudy Feenane

We have come to accept a lot of new trends and terminology over the course of the pandemic. From online searches for banana bread recipes soaring in March, to people grappling with the frequently touted phrase “the new normal”, we appear increasingly receptive to these new Covid-19 formulations. 

“Maskne”, however, was not embraced in the same welcoming manner.

A form of acne mechanica, maskne is caused by the combination of rubbing from the mask which inflames the sebaceous ducts (a gland that produces sebum), as well as the moist micro-environment under the mask which increases oil production and clogs pores with bacteria and oil, according to Professor Caitriona Ryan, co-founder of the Institute of Dermatology.

However all is not lost in treating this newfound nuisance and there are various ways you can help to prevent the irritation, or manage it if it arises.

A simple step to help prevent irritation is choosing a suitable face mask. It is important to consider the material in which the mask is made from, as choosing a mask made from synthetic material can cause irritation, especially for sensitive skin, according to Jennifer Rock, CEO and founder of The Skin Nerd.

Rock recommends choosing a 100 per cent cotton mask. Cotton face masks are both protective and gentle on the skin, but it is important to remember that as a fabric mask, WHO recommends that it has three layers: an inner layer that absorbs, a middle layer that filters and an outer layer.

Irish brand Mask Your Face, produced by three Donegal sisters, has climbed up the echelons of the Irish-produced face mask industry in recent months. The brand produces reusable cotton masks with two to three layers of protection, while ensuring their original designs set them aside in the market.

To minimise the occurrence of spots, washing your reusable mask regularly is key. Rock recommends doing so to avoid putting the unwashed fabric – which may already have accumulated bacteria, oil and makeup – against our face, which can reintroduce these residue elements.

Keeping the skin hydrated is another important aspect when it comes to protecting the skin barrier under masks, according to Professor Caitriona Ryan.

Implementing ingredients with hyaluronic acid into your routine will help draw hydration to the surface of the skin, and act as a protective barrier. Hyaluronic acid can be best found in serums or moisturizers such as Pestle and Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Serum or The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5.

In the event of an outbreak, Rock recommends using a cleanser containing salicylic acid. This will help to remove oily residue and the build-up of dead skin cells, while dually acting as an anti-inflammatory.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Cleansing Gel is a prime example of a product that has been specially formulated for oily, acne-prone skin. Its foaming quality gently works to remove dirt, grime and sebum from the surface of the skin.  Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser is another product that utilises the benefits of salicylic acid to deep-clean congested pores.

Another simple step – though not the easiest to part with – is to consider leaving your face bare and makeup free. Wearing a mask for extended periods of time can lead to breakouts in key zones under your mask, due to the build-up of oil and bacteria, Rock added.

Despite face masks holding significant importance in our current climate, we did not warrant the unexpected skin irritation that would accompany it. Thankfully, with expert advice and recommendations, we can work to curb the “maskne” epidemic one step at a time.

Trudy Feenane

Image Credit: Zach Vessels on Unsplash