The misery of ‘maskne’ is causing more stress for people during the pandemic as sufferers experience an avalanche of acne caused by the masks they are wearing.
The spotty skin condition is usually a struggle during teenage years as a result of hormone imbalances but it now appears to be exploding on cheeks and chins no matter the age.
Medics say mask-related acne, otherwise known as maskne, is a real condition of concern and while mask wearers are doing their country a great service by protecting themselves and others from the spread of Covid-19, their skins may not feel the same way.
Dr Bhartendu Mehta, a dermatologist at American Mission Hospital, said: “The increased use of masks leads to dirt, oil and sweat getting trapped in pores, creating an environment conducive to the growth of bacteria.”
When the mask wearer breathes or talks hot air becomes trapped. This creates a warm, humid environment which is ideal for yeast, bacteria and other flora, such as demodex (types of skin mites that naturally live on the skin), to grow.
Stress from the pandemic is also another maskne-causing culprit, as well as how a mask is cared for.
“If you aren’t washing your mask, that bacteria will continue to seep into your skin,” explained Dr Mehta. “On the other hand, washing masks can also cause breakouts.
“You could have a reaction to the detergent you’re using. Try a gentle, fragrance-free detergent to see if that helps.
“And, if you’re prone to stress-related breakouts, an international pandemic is surely something to stress about. Try your best to relax.”
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that people can help prevent maskne by wearing the right kind of mask.
To reduce skin problems, look for ones that offer a snug, but comfortable fit and features at least two layers of fabric. The fabric should be soft, natural and breathable such as cotton. Make sure to have the cotton fabric on the inside layer that rests against the skin.
“Wearing a mask that offers a snug but comfortable fit helps to protect you and others from the coronavirus,” added Dr Mehta. “You want a snug fit across your nose, on the sides and under your chin.
“A snug fit also reduces skin problems. If the mask feels too tight or slides around on your face, it can irritate your skin.
“You’re also more likely to adjust a poorly-fitting mask. When you touch your mask, you can transfer germs to your mask and your face.”
Bacterial imbalances and friction from a mask can promote acne and rosacea flare-ups, as well as something called perioral dermatitis.
This is when fine pimples and pustules appear around the nose and mouth.
“The fabric is also important,” explained Dr Mehta.
“Avoid synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, polyester and rayon on the layer that rests against your skin. These are more likely to irritate your skin and cause breakouts.”
While Dr Reeti Malhotra, a consultant-Dermatology at the Royal Bahrain Hospital, also thinks that maskne could be due to friction or occlusion, combined with a moist and humid environment created in the underlying area, she also believes weight gain can play a part.
She said: “Another indirect contributory factor is weight gain which I have seen in a lot of my patients. Weight gain may cause hormonal changes which would add on to the acne and maskne burden.”
Dermatologists are also seeing more cases of Contact Dermatitis on hands because of excessive use of soaps and sanitisers. The red, itchy rash isn’t contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable.
In terms of treatment or how to prevent it, Dr Malhotra suggests:
1- Wash your face with an acne wash regularly. Use a toner and a light, oil-free moisturiser post washing. This may reduce friction.
2- Avoid heavy make-up or trying new products which are on the creamier side. Water-based products are better.
3- If friction is a predominant cause, move to a better fitted mask or use silicone strips on the area prone to friction.
4- Cotton and silk masks may be less occlusive and more suited to not retain moisture, therefore better in the long run.
5- Do not put on multiple masks (Dr Malhotra has seen patients using three masks together).
6- Make the appropriate lifestyle changes so that you do not gain weight.
7- Over-the-counter acne creams maybe used too, but if they haven’t helped in around a month, seek medical assistance. Opt for products consisting of salicylic acid, sulphur, zinc or 2.5 per cent of benzoyl peroxide.
Dr Mehta added: “Remember, everything in moderation is the key. Mild products give equally good protection.”
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