Maskne is a Real Thing: Here’s Why and How to Prevent It



Wearing masks is a new norm. The Malaysian government has made it compulsory, effective August 1, to wear face masks in public. For those who fail to do so, they will be fined up to RM1,000. 

While wearing masks is extremely important in reducing the spread of disease (in current case, Covid-19), it can be quite harsh on the skin for certain people. Most people will do just fine but for some unfortunate ones, especially those with acne-prone skin or skin allergies will need to take extra precautions to prevent worsening of existing skin conditions.

Ever since face mask became part of our fashion wardrobe, I have seen a surge of skin problems in my office due to mask wearing. 

In fact, it is so common we actually have a term for it. It is called ‘maskne’ – which means redness, irritation and acne induced by face masks. Other skin conditions include allergic contact dermatitis, new onset of rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, friction dermatitis and new patterns of skin wrinkling.

Why do we get acne from wearing face masks? 

When we breathe and talk in a face mask, the heat is being contained in this closed space, along with your oily skin, makeup, sweat and dead skin cells. This causes congestion and clogged pores that leads to pimples/cystic acne or worse, skin inflammation.

How to prevent “Maskne”?

Wash your face twice a day – with the right ingredients.

If you suffer from dry and irritable skin, cleanse your skin twice a day with a gentle cleanser. You should also apply a lightweight soothing moisturizer to protect your skin barrier behind the mask. 

Using more serums instead of heavy moisturizers as they are lightweight and non-greasy

To Avoid: products intended for anti-aging or acne—this is not the time to use these, as exfoliating agents can become very uncomfortable with a mask. 

If you suffer from oily or acne-prone skin, you can still use gel cleansers and moisturizers. To reduce comedones and congestion, you can consider adding Retinol or Salicyclic Acid into your skincare routine. These ingredients reduces congestion and minimise breakout. 

Skip your usual makeup 

Makeup is more likely to clog your pores and lead to breakouts. If makeup is unavoidable, use only products labeled “non-comedogenic” or “oil free.”

My skin gets sensitive when wearing  face masks.

Identify the cause of irritation. Could it be the material of the mask or detergent used to wash the mask (in case of reusable face mask)? Rashes can be caused by something in or on your mask, or it can also be caused by friction and trapped moisture.

What should I do? 

Choose a soft and breathable mask. 

While some masks can look trendy and fashionable, you may want to opt for something soft and breathable — like 100% cotton that does not irritates the skin. 

To Avoid: Synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon and rayon that will more likely make you sweat and dampen the fabric, causing skin irritation. 

Disclaimer: For prevention of disease spread (such as Covid-19), medical or surgical grade disposable masks serve as the best Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). However, synthetic materials used to make surgical face masks (Polypropylene and Polyester) frequently causes skin irritation or allergies to those with sensitive skin. 

Protect the skin barrier

When we breathe or talk in a mask, the friction abrades our skin barrier. As a result, our skin loses its protective barrier and can potentially evolve into red inflammation/skin irritation. 

Putting an oil free moisturizer on your face throughout the day is the best way to decrease friction between the skin and mask. Also, apply a lip balm to protect the delicate skin of the lips.

If you develop irritation that doesn’t get better after a few days of using an over-the-counter cortisone cream and/or moisturizer, do check in with your doctor to see what’s going on! 

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