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As masks have become commonplace — and, in some cases, mandatory — amid the coronavirus pandemic, so, too, has "maskne."
What’s that, you ask? A portmanteau of "mask" and "acne," maskne refers to the breakouts caused by prolonged wear of non-medical masks.
"I can attest to that, having two big ones on my chin right now," says Dr. Victoria Taraska, a Winnipeg-based board-certified dermatologist, with a laugh. At her practice at the Derm Centre on Grant Avenue, she’s seeing more acne and maskne, as well as other mask-related conditions that don’t have catchy names, such as irritant eczema.
The environment under the mask is just right for breakouts and other irritations.
"The heat, the humidity, the sweat, the oil — that can be a good breeding ground for yeast, bacteria, a number of different organisms to overgrow," Taraska says.
Tina Cable, a Winnipeg facialist, esthetician and owner of Myuz Artistry on Corydon Avenue, says the friction caused by wearing a mask "causes breaks in the skin barrier, creating more susceptibility to damage and irritation." And that can lead to breakouts.
With that in mind, treating maskne isn’t necessarily the same as treating traditional acne, Cable says.
"You’re causing irritation and damage, so now you have to treat it as a damaged, irritated skin incident before you treat the acne," Cable says. "A lot of people are confusing it with full-on acne, that they’re ‘getting acne.’ But they’re not really ‘getting acne.’ They’re getting sensitivity and irritation from applying the mask. In order to treat mask acne and the inflammation in the skin, you need to treat it by building the skin." For that, she recommends using oxygenating products that will restore the skin at the end of the day.
"Everyone’s skin is different, so you have to play around a little bit. I think a lot of people are treating it with acne-related products and that’s not necessarily the right solution."
Other people — such as teenagers who must wear their masks all day at school — may be dealing with both acne and maskne.
"Teenage skin, especially oily skin, you may want to use one of the more acne-based products that have a little salicylic acid or Benzoyl peroxide if you’re prone to acne in the oily skin/combination group," Taraska says.
"However, if you’re in the eczema area or have drier skin, then you’d potentially want to avoid these under the masks because they could give you more irritation. Those people will want to use a gentle, unscented cleanser."
“... But they’re not really ‘getting acne.’ They’re getting sensitivity and irritation from applying the mask. In order to treat mask acne and the inflammation in the skin, you need to treat it by building the skin.” – Tina Cable, Winnipeg facialist, esthetician and owner of Myuz Artistry
After cleansing, Taraska recommends using a non-comedogenic moisturizer. "If you’re oily prone or acne prone, nothing too thick," Taraska says. "The area under the mask, because it’s creating that nice warm environment, will usually be more hydrated, and topical medications can actually penetrate and work a bit better under those conditions of occlusion and heat." (That intensifying effect is also why people in the acne group will want to avoid products with high concentrations of salicylic acid or Benzoyl peroxide.)
While keeping the area clean is important, don’t overcleanse your skin. "We definitely don’t want you to wash your face 10 times a day — but if someone coughs or sneezes on you, we definitely want you to be safe first," Taraska says.
Wash your face in the morning, when you come home from work or school and remove your mask, and then again before bed. Make sure you’re cleansing your neck and washing behind your ears.
And both Cable and Taraska recommend pulling back on makeup routines.
"I’ll keep at just my moisturizer or finishing serum, and my skin is so much happier when I do that," Cable says. "I’ll wear eye makeup sometimes, but this is the perfect time to not wear makeup at all."
Of course, keeping your skin clean and moisturized is only half the equation. You have to keep your mask clean, too. A good guideline: treat your mask the way you treat your underwear.
"In general, you should wear a new mask every day and wash your reusable mask as often as possible," Cable says.
“You may also want to bring a couple of masks and store them throughout the day. If they get wet or dirty, you don’t want that on your skin.” – Dr. Victoria Taraska, a Winnipeg–based board–certified dermatologist
You may also want to reconsider the kind of mask you’re using. Taraska recommends avoiding reusable masks made from blended synthetic fabrics — which can contain chemicals that can irritate the skin — and instead choose masks made from cotton or silk.
"You may also want to bring a couple of masks and store them throughout the day," Taraska says. "If they get wet or dirty, you don’t want that on your skin." (If you need to cleanse mid-day or between mask wears, Cable recommends using micellar water — purified water containing moisturizers and mild surfactants, which are compounds used for cleansing.)
Taraska recommends laundering reusable masks in fragrance-free detergent and ditching the fabric softener. "And you may want to double rinse."
And if your skin is still irritated?
"If they’re not sure exactly what the problem is, of course they can see their doctor or board-certified dermatologist," Taraska says.
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Monday, September 14, 2020 at 5:26 PM CDT: Fixes pullquote formatting
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