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Overcoming Pandemic Maskne: Learn How to Fight Breakouts

A lot of things have changed during the pandemic. COVID-19 safety protocols affect our eating habits, work schedule, and even our skin. Over the last year, acne cases have seen a significant increase, thanks, in part to our masks. Maskne is acne or skin irritation resulting from wearing a mask or face covering. It is a condition affecting those who battled with acne before the pandemic and even those who are not acne prone. Despite these symptoms, the CDC still recommends that everyone age two years or older should wear a mask indoors, especially those unvaccinated. While masks must remain on indoors, there are ways to minimize your acne flare-ups and get your maskne under control.

How could my mask contribute to my acne?

Masks can irritate your skin. They rub against your face all day long, creating raw or red skin, which makes active ingredient skin products like retinol more irritating. Since acne is an inflammatory disorder, the friction of the mask rubbing against your face can cause inflammation and result in an acne flare-up. Irritation is not the only way a mask can lead to acne, either. Thick masks can trap humidity, bacteria, sweat, and oil near your face. These components together work as a perfect storm for the skin by creating an ideal environment for acne and other skin conditions.

What can you do to prevent or limit an acne flare-up?

The easiest way to prevent maskne and other forms of acne is to simplify your routine. It is popular to think that the more products you use on your face, the better your face will be, whether it’s lotions, makeup, exfoliating masks, or crème. In reality, the more products you use, the more you’ll be exposed to active ingredients which provides more opportunity for irritation and breakouts.

A simple skin routine should include:
• Cleanser
• Antioxidant
• Retinoid/retinol
• Sunscreen

In the morning start with a cleanser like Cetaphil or CeraVe. After that apply your antioxidant, like TPMG Hampton Roads Dermatology’s Skinceuticals, which is one of the most effective antioxidant products on the market. Environmental exposure to ozone pollution, UVB/UVA rays, and infrared rays lead to the formation of free radicals (fine lines, discoloration, sagging) in our skin. Antioxidants prevent free radical formation. After applying an antioxidant, pair it with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater. The combination of SPF and an antioxidant gives you double protection against free radicals as well as cancer, aging, and discoloration. At night, use a gentle, nighttime cleanser and then pair it with a retinoid and moisturizer. For those with oily skin, try a moisturizer with a gel consistency like Neutrogena Hydroboost Gel. Lotion is a good moisturizer for those with normal or combinational skin, like CeraVa PM Lotion. Those with dry skin should try a cream moisturizer like La Roche Posay Lipikar Balm.

Additional ways you can avoid maskne involve choosing masks with the right fabrics and care. Make sure to wear masks with soft, breathable fabrics like cotton. Launder your mask regularly and wear a new mask every day. Oftentimes dirty masks can lead to more bacteria, oil, and sweat build-up on your face. Avoid wearing makeup under your mask because it can contribute to breakouts. For those with severe acne, consider wearing pimple patches underneath your mask during the day to protect lesions from friction or rubbing while wearing a mask. Patches can also help those who have difficulty picking their acne. Lastly, if you notice your skin is more irritated (red, itchy flaky), try cutting back the frequency of retinol/retinoid application and other active ingredient products to every other night.

When should I ask a doctor for help?

“If your simplified routine is not cutting it and you’re still experiencing breakouts, then it may be time to consider going to a dermatologist to talk about adding on prescription treatments that may be more effective,” said Alison Grant, PA-C of TPMG Hampton Roads Center for Dermatology. Sometimes other skin conditions will present to us as acne when they are actually something else entirely. Rosacea and perioral dermatitis can mimic the symptoms of acne but are treated very differently. Dermatologists can help you start a personalized skin regimen or prescribe treatments that can get you back on a journey towards clearer skin.

So many people have experienced difficulty due to maskne. At TPMG Hampton Roads Center for Dermatology, we want our patients to feel comfortable in their own skin. If you are experiencing difficulties with acne, consider scheduling an appointment to discuss how you can achieve healthier, flawless skin.

Alison Grant

About Alison Grant, PA-C

Alison Grant, PA-C, treats a broad spectrum of skin conditions to include acne, eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, as well as many other hair and nail disorders. Alison sees patients of all ages from children to adults. With a special interest in the prevention of both skin cancer and premature aging, she is a great proponent of using daily SPF protection.TPMG Hampton Roads Center for Dermatology welcomed Alison to the practice in 2021.

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