By Michaela Tangan
Features Writer, The Philippine STAR

Thanks, or no thanks to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, protective face masks are now part of our daily dress code.

While the scientific community is still searching for the cure or vaccine against COVID-19, health authorities are advising people to wear face masks, especially when heading out in public, interacting with others outside the household, attending to the sick and vulnerable, and exhibiting symptoms of the disease. Meanwhile, wearing face masks is now mandated in several parts of the Philippines.

Coupled with proactive contact tracing, testing of probable cases, proper handwashing, isolation and physical distancing, the use of face masks can help suppress viral transmission in communities.

What is maskne?
As we go on for hours with masks, more people are noticing acne, breakouts, and irritation near the mouth and nose area. Dermatologists call this “maskne.”

Maskne or acne mechanica is caused by several factors, including excess heat, pressure and friction on the skin.

Before the pandemic, it 𝚠𝚊𝚜 already common 𝚊𝚖𝚘𝚗𝚐 athletes, soldiers and medical workers who wore protective gear such as face masks, pads and helmets.

Dermatologists explain that since we use face protection most of the time, our skin experiences more friction than usual. Face masks could trap and hold heat and humidity against the skin, blocking the hair follicles. Heat and humidity build-up around the areas covered by masks also alter the skin’s pH level, triggering hair follicle infection or bacteria and yeast overgrowth.

Moreover, those who are prone to breakouts are more likely to develop maskne.

How to take care of the skin

Find better alternatives. As we save hospital-grade masks for the sick, vulnerable and frontline medical workers, we may choose alternatives, which are made out of materials suited for our skin and lifestyle.

Dermatologists suggest using a paper mask as it does not collect oil and dirt. For those with pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema, choose softer fabrics like cotton for maximum air circulation.

Use masks as instructed. Boxes and packaging often contain instructions on how to properly use, clean or dispose masks. Read and carefully apply them to ensure that it will serve its purpose.

To avoid developing skin irritations, reusable masks should be thoroughly cleaned and dried out after every use to remove sweat, dirt and bacteria in it.

Avoid touching the face. Time and again, health authorities remind us to not touch our faces as the virus can spread through the eyes, nose and mouth. Additionally, germs on the mask could then be passed to our hands.

When adjusting the face cover, do not touch the areas near the eyes, nose and mouth. Only when necessary and when hands are clean, we can readjust the mask’s edges or straps along the sides of the head.

Avoid heavy makeup or skin-care products. The combination of makeup, heavy skin-care products plus the mask is a recipe for disaster as this clogs the pores.

If possible, it’s best to go makeup-free. Those who need to wear makeup may opt for lightweight and non-comedogenic products and avoid putting cosmetics on areas that will be covered by the mask. They may also switch up their skin-care regimen and use heavier creams and moisturizers at night.

Once in a safe environment, let the skin breathe. While it’s important to keep our masks on, it’s equally important to take them off to make the skin breathe and rest. Carefully remove your mask at home or when you’re already in a safe environment.

Take care of your skin. After a long day with the mask on, gently wash the face using clean running water and gentle anti-inflammatory cleansers. Don’t rub your skin; instead, pat it dry with a clean towel. Put a lightweight moisturizer to bring back the moisture into the skin.

Contact a dermatologist. If maskne persists, consult a dermatologist. Don’t self-medicate. It’s best to call in for an appointment or schedule a telehealth consultation as this type of acne can be easily seen on screen.