Beauty

Maskne: how to avoid acne and blemishes while wearing a face covering or mask

Posted by
Lucy Partington
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Face masks are now mandatory on public transport. Here’s how to avoid breakouts and blemishes from wearing one.

The last few months have been a real rollercoaster ride thanks to the coronavirus pandemic that’s affected millions of people around the globe. 

Lockdown measures in the UK, however, are slowly being lifted – non-essential shops are open again, while hairdressers and nail salons are preparing to reopen their doors this weekend on 4 July. Another change that impacts us as individuals is having to wear a face mask or covering.

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The government has been advising that people wear a face covering in “enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet” and from 15 June, it became mandatory to wear one on public transport. Uber and Addison Lee have also said they must be worn when travelling in their vehicles, too.

Regardless of the type of mask, there are legitimate concerns around the skincare you should be using underneath them. Maskne – acne or breakouts caused by wearing them – is a real thing.

“Wearing a face mask, particularly for prolonged periods, means you are breathing into a closed tight space which creates humidity and can accelerate the processes that cause acne,” explains Dr Bibi Ghalaie, medical director at British Aesthetics.

“Wearing masks can also cause any oil, makeup and bacteria or dirt on your skin to become occluded. In turn that can trigger outbreaks of spots, bumps, blemishes, dermatitis, inflamed hair follicles, irritation, broken blood vessels and redness or rosacea,” says Dr Ghalaie. “Reusable masks are particularly bad for the skin if they’re not washed properly as they can collect dust, bacteria and other pollutants which will become trapped between the mask and your skin when it’s next used.”

But the good news is there’s things you can do to prevent irritation, techniques to incorporate and ingredients that should be avoided. Here’s what dermatologists and skin experts advise.

Cleanse skin properly twice a day

First, Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible, suggests using fragrance-free cleansers with lukewarm water. “If your skin is oily or acne prone then choose a foaming cleanser. If it’s dry, irritated or sensitive opt for a cream cleanser,” she says. “If you start to notice skin is becoming dry or irritated as a result of wearing a mask then avoid physical scrubs or exfoliators as they can cause further damage, due to excess removal of dead skin cells. Always pat your face dry with a towel after cleansing rather than rubbing the skin,” she adds.

But don’t over-cleanse

Although it seems like a good idea to cleanse both before and after wearing a mask, Dr Mahto says it’s best to be cautious about it. “Over-cleansing of the skin can lead to dryness, irritation, and redness in those with dry, sensitive or mature skin types. Ideally aim to cleanse twice daily, morning and evening. If you have been sweating excessively then there may be benefit in using a gentle cleanser immediately afterwards which won’t strip the skin.” 

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Maintain hydration

“Keeping the skin moisturised is key for comfort, to encourage wound healing and skin repair,” explains Dija Ayodele, skin health expert and founder of West Room Aesthetics and Black Skin Directory. “Applying an emollient and/or an occlusive moisturiser like Cerave’s Moisturising Cream, £16, will maintain general skin health, protect against infection and support in reducing the severity of any potential scarring,” she says.

“Barrier supporting ingredients such as gluconolactone, panthenol, ceramides, glycerin and niacinamide will boost hydration and encourage healing of the skin. Darker skin tones concerned about the pronounced effect of hyperpigmentation should consider including a pigment-evening serum such as NeoStrata Enlightening Illuminating Serum, £65, to brighten the skin.”

Avoid wearing make-up underneath a mask

“This is an important step in reducing the risk of clogged pores and bacterial build-up on the skin,” says Dr Ghalaie. “A good compromise is to wear a tinted SPF that will give you a healthy glow but won’t contribute to maskne. It’s also worth noting that when half of your face is covered, people will naturally pay more attention to your eyes so drawing attention to them is a good way to balance an otherwise makeup-free look.”

Be careful not to over-exfoliate

“The skin barrier is already under stress, so further exfoliation can cause increased trauma. Gentle exfoliation can be achieved by swapping AHA cleansers for enzyme cleansers,” says Ayodele. “Avoid physical scrubs to prevent further irritation and sensitivity.”

Pick your mask wisely – and change or wash it after every use

“Changing your mask daily can help to avoid a buildup of bacteria on the skin. If you are using a reusable mask ensure it is washed every day, on at least 60-degree heat,” says Dr Ghalaie. “Leaving your mask out in the sun for an hour before reapplying is beneficial, and try to purchase a silk mask as it will be much less of an irritant to skin.”

Dr Mahto concurs, adding that the fit of the mask is often more important. However, Dr Ghalaie suggests buying a silk mask as it will be much less of an irritant to skin.

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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

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