In addition to taking certain precautions, such as washing our hands with soap and water regularly and practicing physical distancing, face masks have also been recommended as another type of measure to keep ourselves and others protected and stopping the spread of COVID-19. While many questions have been raised about face masks and other types of face coverings, something else that has been brought up – particularly on social media – is whether or not face masks can cause (or, in some cases, potentially worsen) acne – a type of skin condition that develops as a result of your hair follicles becoming clogged with oil and dead skin cells, leading to things like blackheads, whiteheads and pimples (also referred to as “breakouts”), and can also be painful. Typically, acne most commonly develops on the face, but it can also appear on other parts of the body such as the forehead, shoulders, upper back, and the chest. While acne is also more common amongst teenagers, it can also affect adults.
While acne caused from wearing face masks has been dubbed “maskne” on social media, the proper clinical term for this is acne mechanica. As for what causes acne mechanica, while most people tend to think it’s due to their skin being blocked or suffocated by a mask, that’s unlikely, as the mask would have to be stuck to your skin like an adhesive. Instead, it’s caused by friction. It’s easy for face masks to physically rub against the skin, which can cause some damage to its protective barrier, and may result in moisture becoming trapped which can ultimately lead to those acne breakouts. This can also worsen with warmer outdoor temperatures, as the pores can also become clogged with sweat and oil.
If you’re starting to develop acne and think that it may be due to wearing a face mask or a face covering (such as a handmade cloth mask), there are few steps you can take to prevent it or ease symptoms, such as:
1. Choose your masks wisely. To reduce irritation and friction, cloth masks are best. If the mask you’re wearing becomes damp with sweat, it’s also important that you change your mask right away. It’s also important to note that handmade cloth masks can also be washed, so make sure you do so after each use.
2. Avoid cosmetics. If you’re someone who wears makeup or other beauty products on the face regularly, you might want to consider avoiding them all together for the time being or decreasing the amount of makeup products you wear under a mask, especially if you’re susceptible to acne. Cosmetic products, such as foundations, don’t allow the skin to breathe properly. Combined with a mask, this can cause a build-up on the skin and eventually lead to breakouts.
3. Wash your face. Whether wearing a mask, you should always wash your face regularly, twice a day (morning and night) using a gentle, mild cleanser. Keeping the skin clean is important in preventing breakouts as well as avoiding things like dryness.
4. Moisturize. To keep the skin healthy and to repair its natural protective barrier, you also need to keep your skin moisturized on a daily basis (typically it’s recommended that you moisturize in the morning using a day cream, and in the evening using a night cream.) The type of moisturizer you use, however, is dependent on your skin type.
With all of these tips in mind, it’s also important to remember that wearing a mask is still recommended, particularly in the event that you cannot physically distance from others. While a mask alone will not stop the spread of COVID-19 (as we also need to follow other measures, like regular hand washing), it can significantly reduce the amount of droplets that are produced.