Face masks can cause a couple types of irritation in a couple different ways. Masks foster ripe grounds for acne-causing bacteria production thanks to their tendency to trap sweat, heat, and sebum in one concentrated area. Plus, acne mechanica (acne-like bumps that may appear as papules or congestion like whiteheads and blackheads) can pop up from friction and heat from where the skin and mask meet.
Wash Or Replace Your Mask Every Day
First things first, practice good mask hygiene. Toss your disposable mask after every use, making sure to cut the straps first. If you’re opting for reusable masks, you’ll want to wash and thoroughly dry them after every use. Whether you hand or machine wash each mask will depend on the manufacturer’s recommendation. Regardless, we recommend using a gentle, dye-free, fragrance-free detergent and avoiding dryer sheets that may contain skin-irritating fragrances and ingredients as well. Between uses, store your cleaned mask in a clean, sealed container like Tupperware or a plastic bag.
Material and fit of the mask is also important. You’ll want to avoid rough fabrics, opting for something that feels comfortable on the skin. Having the option to adjust your straps may also be helpful in reducing friction. Some recommendations include the adjustable, cotton-lined masks from Carbon 38 and satin, anti-irritation masks from fellow NYC facialist Sofie Pavitt.
Focus On Hydration
Above all, you’ll want to focus on soothing and healing the skin first; your skin can’t heal acne unless its barrier function is maintained.
Mitigate bacteria production while restoring hydration to the skin with a non-stripping cleanser both morning and night. Before applying your mask each day, you’ll want to create a protective barrier between your skin and the PPE. We recommend applying a lightweight, anti-inflammatory serum or oil for warmer weather, or a thicker balm like gotu kola (around areas of friction) for colder weather. [Disclaimer: Those who wear more well-sealed PPE like N95 masks may want to avoid heavier balms, as they can interfere with the mask’s seal.] Lock in moisture every morning and night with a soothing moisturizer that works to heal and restore any damage or dehydration.
Treat Irritation Intelligently, Not Harshly
When you remove your mask, immediately apply an antiseptic toner to cleanse skin without overly-stripping. For any inflamed breakouts, treat pustules with a spot treatment nightly until the inflammation has subsided. If you’re experiencing patches of congestion (like tiny bumps without pus), apply a detoxifying mask over the problem areas a couple times a week. If you’re only experiencing irritation in the mask region, there’s no need to use spot treatments on the rest of your face, so make sure you’re only applying these acne-fighting treatments to the areas that really need it. For those who tend to wear masks for longer periods of time (like for work), and are dealing with sores or open wounds, apply hydrocolloid bandages over the area to promote healing and prevent further damage.
Above all, you’ll want to focus on soothing and healing the skin first. Your skin can’t heal acne unless its barrier function is nourished.
Products to Tackle Maskne
Treating maskne is all about balance. It might be tempting to layer on every targeted treatment out there when you’re frustrated with something bothersome like maskne, but this will only make the problem worse. Balance acne-fighting treatments with a regular cleansing and moisturizing routine that will repair the skin’s moisture barrier. Here are the products we’ve been relying on to prevent and treat maskne over the last few months:
A Non-Stripping Cleanser
Wipe away blemish-causing impurities while restoring the skin with hydration and anti-inflammatory ingredients like chamomile flower extract and chlorella
If You're A Dry, Normal, Or Sensitive Skin Type:
If You're An Acneic, Combo, Normal, Or Oily Skin Type:
An Antiseptic Toner
This post-mask spritz will rebalance your skin’s pH levels with the help of hydrating, soothing jasmine water and a source of salicylic acid that calms the skin and breakouts.
A Hydrating Moisturizer
Ideal for inflamed skin, this dreamy cream is perfect for those dealing with active breakouts as it fights back against blemishes while deeply soothing the skin.
A Barrier-Reinforcing Oil
This multitasking facial oil both repairs past damage while protecting against future stressors, infusing your skin with antioxidants that power its regeneration process.
A Spot Treatment
Pop these on active breakouts overnight or even under your mask to stop a pimple in its tracks. Plus, these patches help you resist the urge to pop, so your acne can start to heal safely.
A Detoxifying Mask
Clear congestion and refine pores with this cooling, calming mask that uses gentle AHAs to brighten and smooth skin.
One Final Do and Don't
Finally, make sure you always wash your hands before you handle your mask or do any skincare (especially steps that involve touching your face!). This is a good lifelong habit to be extra vigilant about now. Plus, pause your makeup routine, or at least anything that you apply under the mask—the combination of products and perspiration can clog pores.
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