While minimising the spread of coronavirus is obviously essential these days, so is knowing how to prevent breakouts while wearing a mask.

Strapping a piece of fabric to your face might be good for public health, but it’s not great for skin health.

Many devoted mask-wearers are experiencing an uptick in acne breakouts, or “maskne” as it’s now dubbed.

In a year that we didn’t think could get any weirder, this new skin phenomenon has even prompted the launch of maskne essential collections from Korean skincare brands Dr Jart+ and Peach & Lily. And more and more people, some of whom have never experienced acne before, are claiming to suffer from breakouts thanks to protective face masks.

It’s not just a marketing ploy for skincare to sell more products either. A research letter published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that at least 83 percent of health care workers in Hubei, China suffered skin problems on the face.

Given that frontline workers wear tighter mask for longer hours, they’re the most susceptible to mask-related acne, but no one is immune.

So, add maskne to your evergrowing list of things you didn’t know were possible before 2020 because it’s not going anywhere. Unless, of course, you have a killer skincare routine that can bust any mask breakout.

What causes maskne?

Masks save lives, but they’re also a breeding ground for acne on the skin.

Acne typically develops when pores get clogged by oil, dead skin cells, makeup, dirt, or bacteria. This produces breakouts that vary in size and severity depending on your skin type.

A trusted skincare routine involving cleansing, exfoliating, moisturizing, and wearing sunscreen helps manage acne by shedding cells and cleaning out nasty pimple-causing gunk.

While you may have had your skincare routine perfected before mandatory masks were introduced, the skin-healing process is interrupted when bacteria and dirt have no way of escaping past the skin’s surface.

Masks are designed to keep droplets, saliva, and bacteria from passing through the air and transmitting diseases. But in creating a seal that prevents moisture from escaping, they also form a humid environment where acne-causing bacteria is able to thrive.

Maskne is no new concept, either — it’s just be relabelled. Dermatologists commonly refer to this as acne mechanical, a name that is actually a lot cooler and less-gross sounding than maskne if you ask me.

It’s a form of acne caused by friction that someone might get between rolls of skin, or an athlete might get from wearing a helmet or heavy gear while sweating. This means that though acne mechanical might be new to a lot of us, there are already plenty of proven ways to prevent and reduce its effects. 

How do you prevent breakouts while wearing a mask?

While maskne is a minor inconvenience that comes with doing our part to flatten the curve, it’s an inconvenience nonetheless. If you want glowing skin, follow these simples steps to prevent breakouts caused by wearing a mask.

1. Consider the type of mask you wear.

The thicker the mask, the better the protection but the less your skin can breathe.

Only you can decide what sacrifices you want to make to prevent acne, but a 100 percent cotton mask is a good halfway point between extreme protection and skin breathability. 

2. Cleanse your mask before wearing it.

Just like putting clean clothes on after a gym workout, putting a mask on dirty skin won’t replace the need for a wash.

Cleansing your skin with a gentle cleanser specifically designed to target acne will wash away any dirt, sweat, or bacteria that could fester and clog pores from behind your mask.

3. Moisturize before wearing your mask.

Though you may fear fuelling breakouts with oily moisturizers, barrier creams can prevent the mask from chaffing or causing friction, therefore reducing the likelihood of acne mechanica.

Opt for a non-comedogenic moisturizer that won’t clog pores. Also, try and use a moisturizer that contains at least SPF30; this will prevent the sun from damaging skin cells and worsening acne, as well as preventing unflattering mask tan lines! 

4. Reduce makeup usage.

Makeup clogs pores even when there’s no mask involved, so you can imagine how bad it gets when your skin has no breathability whatsoever.

If ever there was a time to become a minimalist in your beauty routine, it’s now. Embrace the fact that no one has anywhere important to be and that half of your face is covered at all times by ditching makeup altogether or at least wearing it less often.

You could even use the disguise of a mask to apply spot treatments or acne stickers on your breakouts without anyone noticing. 

5. Cleanse at the end of the day.

Once you’re done wearing your mask for the day, cleanse off all that nasty bacteria with an acne-busting nighttime routine.

Go for products that contain retinol, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid, as these ingredients are great for reducing acne. You should also moisturize with an acne-friendly night cream to keep your skin glowy and youthful. 

6. Wash your mask frequently.

Would you wear the same underwear two days in a row?

Not only is changing and washing masks essential to virus protection, but it also kills bacteria and prevents more dirt from touching the skin, leading to fewer breakouts. It might also help to wash your pillowcases more regularly so the oil from your skin doesn’t touch your face night after night.