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What is Maskne? Maskne Prevention & Treatment

Acne has always been one of the most common areas of concern in dermatology. Dr. Michele Green is an internationally renowned expert in treating recalcitrant acne and acne scars in her boutique NYC office.  Maskne has become the newest form of acne, and these new acne breakouts have been a concern with many patients. Due to excessive heat, sweating, and the new mandate of face masks due to Coronavirus (Covid-19), the amount and extent of acne breakouts has increased drastically in patients in NYC and around the world.

A lot of things have changed in our daily lives since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly schedules, home life, and that classic routine when you walk out the door; we now leave the house with our keys, our phone, and our face mask. We wear masks to protect ourselves and others from the spread of Covid-19 (Coronavirus), but this new protective layer has a few unfortunate side effects: pimples, blackheads and breakouts. 2020, meet maskne, a way for you to reconnect with your former teenage self!

If you have been experiencing maskne, never fear; you are not alone. Maskne has been a hot topic of conversation amongst news sources and magazines alike, from CNN to Esquire to Instyle. “I am seeing a lot of patients with pimples, redness, and irritation around their cheeks, mouth, and jawline from wearing masks,” observed Dr. Green in a recent interview with The GLOW Recipe. “These face masks are occluding your skin, clogging your pores, and exacerbating this condition.”

Though maskne can be frustrating, there are solutions and skincare practices that can help. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michele Green will work with you to create the skin regimen that is best for you.

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How does your Skincare regimen affect maskne?

When it comes to acne breakouts surrounding the mouth and nose (known as perioral dermatitis), face masks can exacerbate clogged pores and irritation, leading not only to increased acne, but also Rosacea and Eczema flare-ups. However, your skincare routine can vastly affect the way your face mask affects you.

Dr. Green recommends washing your face with a gentle cleanser, such as Cerave or Cetaphil, coupled with a dermatologist-recommended exfoliant that’s right for you. Though some recommend a combined exfoliant and face wash, such as Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, those with sensitive skin can sometimes experience more irritation with constant exfoliation. If you have a dry skin type, a before-bed moisturizer with active ingredients of hyaluronic acid or ceramides can help to hydrate skin and restore the skin barrier. Some of these moisturizers are budget-friendly and fragrance-free, such as The Inkey List Ceramide Hydrating Night Treatment (you can find it on sephora.com). Retinol-based serums or oils can also be a helpful treatment before bed, but do make sure not to put them on immediately before putting on your face mask in the morning, as both retinol and benzoyl peroxide can increase irritation from face mask friction.

To protect the skin before you put on your mask, you can turn to a lightweight hydrating moisturizer. It’s important that whatever hydrating lotion you choose is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores and increase your chance of breakouts. Particularly for those with sensitive skin, a lightweight, fragrance-free lotion can be an excellent option to hydrate the skin without increasing oil production. Incorporating moisturizer into your daily skin routine is not only hydrating, but also essential in the case of prolonged face mask use, as it can both protect the skin from debris and help boost the skin’s natural barrier. This simple skincare habit can lower the risk of other harmful skin conditions that come with extended mask wear, such as skin breakdown, where the layers of the skin begin to fissure.

How to fight those acne breakouts from maskne

An increase in pimples, especially during this high-stress time in our society, can be a source of negative self-esteem. But maskne is unique in terms of the specific style of acne, and therefore requires a unique approach. Traditional acne, known as acne vulgaris, is caused by hormones or genetics, and is one of the most common skin conditions that a dermatologist treats. Maskne falls under a different category, as it is amplified from friction between the mask and the skin of the face. “What is happening is that sweat combined with the oils in your skin, are getting clogged and causing an increase in bacteria,” says Dr. Green. “All of this occlusion is leading to both comedonal acne and acne cysts.” With Maskne, both external factors–including face mask type, temperature, skin care products, pollution exposure–as well as the skin itself must be more closely considered.

When a blemish develops underneath a face mask, it’s natural to want to attack it aggressively, but that gusto can lead to more irritation, as too much exfoliation or intense serums can further damage the already compromised skin barrier. Though it may seem counterintuitive, it’s better to deal with maskne breakouts through a combination of an adjusted skincare routine and the prevention of irritation, rather than an aggressive approach.

One of the best ways to prevent further flare-ups is to reconsider your beauty routine, particularly in regards to makeup and sunscreen. Dr. Green encourages those experiencing an increase in blemishes to skip the foundation, as too thick of a layer of either makeup or sunscreen can dirty your face mask quickly, which can clog pores and increase your odds of harmful bacteria along the surface of the skin. Another essential beauty tool is simply washing your face. Right when you come inside from the heat and humidity, go right to the sink to wash your face with a gentle cleanser. If you combine this routine with a gentle toner, you’ll have rid the skin from oils and debris, thus limiting your risk of unwanted pimples and blemishes.

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How to stop acne breakouts from your face mask

For any type of maskne breakout, there are targeted gels that can be applied nightly to help restore your skin to its pre-facemask state. For smaller flare-ups, Dr. Green recommends a combination of topical antibiotics and over-the-counter, retinol-based Differin gel, which can be applied at night to unclog pores and resolve acne fast. Acne masks a few times a week can also help to keep the skin clear.

Not all acne treatments are created equal, which is why Dr. Green’s MGSKINLABs Acne Kit can be an excellent option for a variety of blemishes and skin types. The Acne Kit is composed of three skin care products: salicylic acid face wash, to unclog your pores, Retexturizing pads (made of alpha and beta hydroxy acids and salicylic acid) to exfoliate the skin, and a Spot Treatment of benzoyl peroxide to dry up new pimples fast. Salicylic acid is a powerful tool when it comes to loosening up dead skin cells, and benzoyl peroxide can work to improve your skin overnight.

If an acne breakout is severe and you’re experiencing multiple flare-ups, widespread irritation, or cysts, Dr. Green will typically turn to oral antibiotics and Retinoids in order to restore the skin.

The best face masks for COVID-19 which won’t cause maskne

Dr. Green suggests breathable fabrics that are known for being gentle on skin: “Cotton masks are less irritating than regular medical masks, since cotton is a breathable material. Silk masks are similarly more comfortable and breathable and a better choice for you to use.” Plus, these more comfortable fabrics may have medical support as well: “In fact, the University of Chicago researchers suggested that a combination of masks made of high thread-count cotton with natural silk fabric or a chiffon weave could effectively filter out aerosol particles, and prevent the spread of Covid.”

Cloth masks, particularly in a silk blend, can help, provided that the fit of the mask is good for the wearer. The name of the game here is reducing occlusion. As Dr. Green explains, “Facemasks, due to their occlusion, are causing damage in the skin’s protective barrier. This damage to the skin’s barrier, coupled with sweat, moisture, and bacteria, make the acne worse. Due to the occlusion of the mask, coupled with heat and sweat, the mask clogs the pores and creates an increase in bacteria and cysts.” A breathable cloth mask can help to prevent maskne year-round, as occlusion can worsen in heat and humidity, and skin barriers can weaken naturally due to dryness in cold weather. For those who are more prone to Eczema or dry skin during the colder winter months, the quality of your cloth mask should be an essential consideration.

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Additionally, when it comes to face mask care, it is essential to leave the house with a clean mask. If you’ve been leaving your mask to air out hanging in your sunny car window, it may explain your increased blemishes. Though viral aerosols may die on the surface of fabrics or other materials over the course of hours or days, the microbes that contribute to maskne like to stick around. This is why breathable cloth masks should be washed after use, every time. Dr. Green recommends a gentle detergent, such as Woolite, to prevent any contact dermatitis or additional irritation from detergents.

It’s also good to remember that surgical masks are only intended for single use due to their effective trapping of aerosols and other particles, and multiple uses will not only decrease effectiveness, but also may cause another flare-up. For this reason, the CDC recommends cloth face masks for those who are not healthcare workers.

How do HydraFacials treat maskne?

When it comes to the perioral dermatitis caused by a face mask, certain hydrating treatments and facials can radically improve blemishes and prevent further breakouts. For restorative care that creates a rejuvenating glow and clearer skin, Dr. Green recommends a HydraFacial. HydraFacial is designed to clean your skin from environmental pollution, traditional acne, and acne mechanica through an innovative 3-step process: deep cleansing, exfoliation, and infusion with intensive serums. This remarkable skincare treatment removes dead skin cells and improves circulation, creating moisture-rich, radiant skin. The HydraFacial not only removes harsh pollutants in the skin and reduces acne, but also helps to reduce the effects and appearance of dry skin, hyperpigmentation, discoloration, rosacea, and fine lines and wrinkles. During your consultation with Dr. Green, she will explain how HydraFacials can be tailored to best meet your skincare needs.

How to stop acne mechanica

“Acne Mechanica,” is the official category that maskne falls under, as it is caused by the mechanical friction between fabric and skin. Though acne mechanica is a more familiar term to athletes who wear helmets with chin straps, anyone can experience irritation as small hair follicles on our faces interact with the fabric on our face masks.

The effects of this skin irritation can become far more severe the more frequently you wear your mask, and it can shift depending on if you’re wearing a cloth mask or more intensive personal protective equipment (PPE), which is why healthcare workers have been seeing much more aggressive skin irritation. If your are a frontline worker and/or healthcare worker, you may also be at an increased risk for skin breakdown or fissures in the skin, as well as ulcers, cellulitis, and infections. In the case of these more severe skin issues, a patient would need to be treated with topical and oral wound care. If you are experiencing more severe skin breakdown or skin infection, Dr. Green is here to support you and help restore your skin to its optimal health.

Whether you are wearing a mask as a frontline health care worker, or are acne prone and now suffering from maskne breakout, Dr. Michele Green is an expert in treating all types of acne and acne scars. Contact the office online today or call us at 212-535-3088 to see how Dr. Green can customize a skincare plan for you.

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