Love them or loathe them, as a result of the global pandemic, Covid-19 face coverings are now a part of everyday life for most people. You’re likely here because you’re experiencing an increase in your acne since wearing your face covering more frequently and for longer… and want to know what’s going on.
The hashtag “#maskne” is trending all over social media, with tagged content amassing over 110 million views on TikTok alone! It is clear this is a widespread struggle. In fact, a study discovered that 59.6% of individuals wearing masks regularly have experienced acne outbreaks.
So, what is ‘maskne’?
It’s important to know that ‘maskne’ (mask-acne) is a coined term for an increase in acne, or spots and blocked pores, directly caused by the wearing of face coverings. This can include triggering of existing acne (acne vulgaris) and the acne arising from irritation and damage of the skin by pressure, friction and occlusion- acne mechanica. Conditions like folliculitis or dermatitis can also be triggered by face coverings. Each condition needs to be treated or managed in different ways.
Whatever the cause may be, if you are concerned about your skin, or unsure what to do, you should ask a healthcare professional e.g. a doctor, dermatologist or pharmacist for more advice to ensure correct diagnosis and treatment.
What is acne vulgaris?
It is a skin condition that involves blockage and inflammation of the hair follicles:
- Hair follicles become blocked or obstructed- e.g. with dead skin cells and excess oil (also known as sebum). These pores become clogged, forming black and white heads.
- Acne bacteria present on the skin grows in these blocked pores, thriving on the oils.
- Inflammation occurs, forming spots, which may be red and sore.
- For more info about acne vulgaris click here
Among some other causes, existing acne vulgaris may be worsened and flare up due to wearing of face coverings or from increased stress- something that has certainly been in plentiful supply during the pandemic!
Acne vulgaris may be managed in various ways, depending on the severity. For mild acne, there are ways to self-treat. For moderate or severe acne, a healthcare professional should be consulted for treatment advice.
Acnecide medicinal treatments contain benzoyl peroxide which is an active ingredient effective in killing up to 95% of the acne-causing bacteria. It also exfoliates dead skin cells and dries up excess oil, to help unclog follicles.
How can face coverings contribute to existing acne vulgaris?
Face coverings cling tightly to the face over nose and mouth, creating a lovely warm, humid environment unbalancing the skin’s normal flora and pH, enabling bad bacteria to thrive and grow. The heat can also encourage sweat and oil production which can exacerbate blocked pores that are already part of the pre-existing acne condition.
What is acne mechanica?
Acne mechanica is unique from acne vulgaris. Skin might also feel itchy. It occurs when the skin barrier is weakened and opening of hair follicles become irritated and inflamed due to friction & pressure – sources of mechanical irritation, and the imbalance of the skin’s bacterial flora and pH- caused by the heat and humidity. It can even be triggered in people who do not normally suffer with acne.
How do face coverings contribute to acne mechanica?
Face coverings put pressure and friction on the surface of the skin, leading to skin barrier damage and irritation. The material traps moisture and heat under it, changing the normal environment the skin is used to – altering how skin is ‘breathing’, how moisture evaporates from it and even unbalancing the pH levels of the protective acid mantle – a part of the natural skin barrier.
Expert advice for appropriate daily skincare tends to focus on strengthening and protecting the skin barrier and reducing the sources of the mechanical trauma and irritation:
- Properly fitting and clean face coverings, to avoid excessive friction and pressure, while maintaining a good seal of protection.
- Use of gentle non-irritating, pH balanced daily cleansers – cleanse max 2 x daily so as not to over cleanse and dry out the skin which can provoke even more oil production!
- Non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, oil control moisturisers to not only moisturise, but to help lubricate and protect the skin surface where it contacts the fabric.