Like it or not, I do believe masks are here to stay and have become a permanent/semi-permanent member of our wardrobe.
I’ll admit, it was difficult to get used to at first. In fact, occasionally I still find myself forgetting to put it on and have to trek back to my car to put one on.
BUT… wearing a mask isn’t all bad. In fact, it has saved me time and money to only put on makeup on the top half of my face. I have learned how to up my eye makeup game. I can hide in my mask. I can be grumpy, or happy, or everything in between and still have peace of mind that I am not spreading disease. My emotions are my own and so are my germs.
Unfortunately, wearing a mask is not without it’s own health pitfalls. The most annoying being “maskne.”
Maskne, or Mask Acne is on the rise as people around the world are wearing masks every public moment now. Maskne is “acne mechanica,” meaning the mechanical friction of the mask fabric rubbing against your skin is causing breakouts. It’s exacerbated by the warm moist breath that is constantly being breathed out and into the mask. Acne- causing bacteria thrive in this environment.
People who already struggle with skin problems such as acne, rosacea, dermatitis, allergies, and sensitive skin are generally more likely to suffer from maskne.
The best offense is a really solid defense
Masks are like underwear: wear a clean mask (or two) every day.
Wash your face daily: Once in the morning and once in the evening using a gentle soap or cleanser. Harsh soaps and cleansers can actually strip too much oils out of your skin and exacerbate the problem.
Avoid heavy face cream or makeup where the mask covers the face and allow your skin to breathe.
Choosing a Mask
Avoid paper surgical and disposable masks. These are sometimes pre-treated with formaldehyde and other antibacterial solvents which can irritate skin or cause contact dermatitis.
Chose a cloth mask that fits snugly, like a warm hug, over your nose and under your chin. There shouldn’t be any large gaps between your face and the mask and the mask should be tight enough that it does not fall down.
Cloth masks should be at least 2 layers thick and made of a tightly and finely woven fabric.
100% cotton with a high thread count (600 TPI has been deemed optimal) was found to be the most effective at filtering particulate as well as being very kind to the skin.
It should be noted again: Only don a clean mask. If needed, switch up the mask every couple hours. But make sure it is a clean, fresh mask EVERY TIME.
Clean your used mask(s) daily using a mild, unscented soap or detergent. A gentle dish soap with warm water works great especially when the mask is dried in the dryer afterwards (without a dryer sheet or fabric softener).
Fragrances, scented soaps, detergents, and fabric softeners can cause or trigger allergies or irritate sensitive facial skin. These should be avoided.
Face Hygiene (prevention)
Begin and End your day with a clean face. It always baffles me how many people do not wash their face daily.
Use a natural toner like witch hazel after washing to tone and tighten the pores.
Opt for a light moisturizer rather than a heavy one in the morning prior to wearing your mask.
Ideally, let your skin breath by wearing little to no makeup under your mask. Makeup can clog plates as well as attract bacteria and dirt in the moist environment of the mask.
If having a naked face isn’t an option, (even though no one should be seeing your lower face), a tinted moisturizer could be a good option here.
Definitely do not wear heavy caked on make up under your mask as these can and will aggravate the skin under a mask.
Troubleshooting your Face Hygiene
Switch to a cloth mask if you have been previously been using disposable paper masks. For many people this simple switch alone can work miracles on the health of your skin.
Change to a clean mask every couple of hours if needed.
Use a gentle cleansing cloth or towelette to remove oils, bacteria, and extra moisture before switching masks throughout the day.
Thoroughly clean your face at the end of the day with a gentle cleanser (I know I’m repeating myself… it’s just that important).
Use a probiotic face wash and/or toner. There are several highly recommended commercial products out there or you can make your own.
Apply a nourishing natural moisturizer to your face after washing and toning.
Use Masks to fight Maskne
A charcoal mask is a great option after a day of mask-induced humidity. Charcoal is used to detoxify and absorb both internally and externally. As such, this mask can help pull dirt, bacteria, residual makeup, and extra oil out of your pores. Charcoal masks are more drying and can feel wonderful after a day of wearing a mask. Be sure to apply a light moisturizer after rinsing off the charcoal mask to rehydrate the skin.
A mask of bentonite clay can be amazing here too.
Apply a hydrating and nourishing microbiome- friendly mask to foster a healthy skin environment. The skin has a microbiome, just like the gut. When good, beneficial bacteria and organisms are present, they work hard to keep the bad bacteria in check. This is another reason to avoid harsh detergents and cleansers- they completely deplete the beneficial bacteria on your skin and leave it as a desert biome perfect for colonization by opportunistic bad bacteria that can and will cause acne. The key is to introduce prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. Prebiotics are the “fertilizers” that feed the probiotics. Post biotics are immobilized probiotics that work to harmonize and restore homeostasis to the microbiome.
Egg Whites contain prebiotics such as amino acids, calcium, and magnesium, as well as postbiotics of peptides and fatty acids like omega 3’s. These are all incredibly beneficial to the good bacteria found in your skin’s microbiome.
Greek Yogurt (plain, whole fat) is a naturally fermented food that contains a lot of probiotic cultures such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. casei. These aren’t just good for your gut, but also amazing for your beneficial skin cultures as well. As such, Greek yogurt has been found to be helpful in fighting acne, toning skin, decreasing inflammatory skin conditions, and helping to build the skin’s natural barriers against outside irritants and pathogens. It is also a natural emollient, which softens the surface layer of your skin and aids in gentle exfoliation.
Honey has natural antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties as well as helping to balance the bacteria on your skin. In studies, manuka honey has been found to be more anti-acne than many commercial products on the market. Honey is a vulnerary, which means it has wound healing properties ranging from burns to sores. Honey is also a natural emollient and exfoliator and helps gently removed excess surface skin cells without aggressive exfoliation that can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions. Opt for raw unpasteurized honey, and use manuka honey if it is available.
Herbal Face Steams
Herbal face steams can help open and cleanse pores. Using aromatic face-friendly herbs like Rose, Lavender, and Chamomile can enhance the experience as well as aid in the detoxification process.
Simply simmer some water (distilled or filtered is ideal), and pour the hot water into a bowl with the dried herbs. Put a towel over your head and lean over the bowl allowing the steam to caress your face and open your pores. Be careful to keep your eyes closed and to not let the steam burn you. Let your face steam for about 5 minutes. You can use the herb water to rinse your face afterwards.
Finally, rinse your face with cool water and apply a gentle toner like witch hazel or a hydrosol like rose, lavender, or chamomile, and then moisturize.
Essential oils have their time and place, and helping with skin issues is one of the areas where they really shine. For acne related problems, Lavender, Tea Tree, and Clary Sage are all amazing allies.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a powerful anti-inflammatory as well as vulnerary (wound healer). It is gently antibacterial and can help balance the good and bad bacteria on your skin. Lavender contains high amounts of the chemical constituent linalool which relaxes upset skin (and emotions) as well as relieving stress which can exacerbate breakouts.
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is well known for its effects on acne. It is a drying oil that is also cooling, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. It reduces redness and swelling (like lavender) as well as balance oils and soothe dryness.
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) is a less well-known ally for acne. It is particularly good at addressing acne caused by or exacerbated by stress and hormones as well as addressing and balancing excess sebum production.
All three of these essential oils are generally considered safe for use but should diluted appropriately for daily use.
Hydrosols are the aqueous by-product of the essential oil distillation process and which contain microscopic particulate of the essential oils as well as the heavier constituents of the plant that are water soluble rather than oil soluble. The hydrosols of these essential oils can also be used beneficially and without dilution as a face spritzer, toner, or rinse.
Many sites advise regular exfoliation with an exfoliating cleanser several times per week to address acne. This is not a good idea. Exfoliation products should only be used once a week at most as these can cause abrasions, inflammation, and exposed tender skin that is vulnerable to infection. When these skin conditions are then kept in the moist environment of a mask, infection and increased acne can occur.
For regular gentle exfoliation, use a soft towel to briefly and gently rub your face dry after washing.
Finally, If none of these suggestions produce any improvements in your skin health, a visit to a dermatologist or other qualified health care professional may be needed.
For Further Reading:
Coronavirus: Tips to Avoid “Maskne” Skin Irritation
Brainy Beauty: What Do Probiotics Have to Do with Your Skin?
How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask
How to do a Steam Facial
6 Steps to a Healthy Biome