‘Maskne’ Is A Real Thing—Here’s How to Treat and Prevent It

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There’s cystic acne and hormonal acne, and now thanks to our increased use of face coverings, we can add ‘maskne’ to the list of reasons why we might be breaking out. So is there a way to prevent an outbreak before it happens? And which products or ingredients should we reach for if our skin does go haywire, giving us yet another reason to cover up? We took these questions to our skin-care experts to find out how to steer clear from pimples while staying safe. 

What Is Causing It
The culprit? Saddle Brook, NJ dermatologist Dr. Frederic Haberman says it’s the breakdown of what is known as the skin’s barrier, or the outermost layer that shields it from external stressors while keeping hydration locked in. “A damaged barrier can lead to all kinds of irritation issues including, yes, acne. It’s all about getting an intact barrier back,” says Dr. Haberman.

“Preexisting skin conditions lurking underneath a mask, like acne, rosacea, and even melasma also factor in,” says Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD. “Other issues like contact irritant dermatitis, heat rash and folliculitis have been problematic, too,” she adds. “ What we’ve seen in the medical work force while wearing N95 masks for prolonged periods of time has revealed unique issues of trauma to the skin, resulting in frictional erosions, ulcerations, and poor wound healing simply from wearing a properly-fitted mask for long periods of time.”

Heather Hickman, senior director of US Education for Dermalogica says those with reactive skin are more susceptible to breakouts due to how masks should fit on the face in order to be effective. “There is also a possibility of developing textile dermatitis if the mask or elastic is too tight. This can cause bruising or irritation when worn for long periods. High sensitivity, redness and inflammation are common concerns seen with frontline health works.” 

How to Treat It 
Step one is to break out your cleanser before putting on the mask, explains Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias: “Make sure you are putting the mask on clean skin. You should be using a gentle cleanser prior to applying your mask. Also, a good moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid may help prevent irritation from the mask.” 

“I recommend a cream or skin-care product with ceramides, squalene or jojoba to help repair the barrier,” adds Dr. Haberman. “I also recommend starting treatment with salicylic acid, which can help ‘pimples’ clear more quickly and also comes with anti-inflammatory benefits.”

What to Buy
Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD recommends Glytone Brightening Complex ($74). “Use it twice daily to reduce pimples, rosacea and blemishes—it’s a great multitasker even for sensitive skin,” she says. Prospect, KY dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD suggests a cleanser and face scrub combo, “Toss in a little Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Daily Care Foaming Cleanser ($40) and Avene Gentle Exfoliating Gel ($24)—boom, problem solved.”

“I like Lasercyn Dermal Spray ($52) along with a gentle cleanser and a hyaluronic acid moisturizer,” adds New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD. “If there’s a need to wear an N95 mask for extended periods without a break, I think it also helps to wear DuoDERM Extra Thin Dressing ($4) on the skin to create a physical barrier. For most people, I recommend wearing a cloth mask since the goal is to prevent spread of respiratory droplets, not aerosolized virus.”

Retinol can also help to curb “maskne” breakouts, but Hickman says the ingredient can also be sensitizing to the skin. “Products with retinyl esters that convert to retinol on a time release on contact with the skin will help avoid irritation or sensitivity. Dermalogica’s Retinol Clearing Oil ($65) is a time-released retinol with salicylic acid and phytoactive lipids that will combat the signs of acne without irritation. Use it at night consistently to help avoid “maskne” breakouts. And don’t forget your sunscreen! UV rays can still penetrate fabrics and you don’t want to end up with two-tone skin all summer. Try Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30 ($54) for chemical free non-irritating sun protection.” 

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