‘Maskne’ in the Time of Corona
Cover Art by Arkeen Perez
Who would’ve thought that there would come a time when we would all be walking out of our homes in a face mask and a face shield like it was always the norm? Do you remember when we thought Singapore was outrageous for banning gum? Well, welcome to the Philippines in 2020 where people are fined for not wearing a mask. Even more outrageous is despite being a mask-and-shield-obsessed country, we continue to be in second place with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the whole of Southeast Asia. As we dip into the eighth-month of avoiding the virus and wearing the much-dreaded mask, another question comes to mind: “Are these pimples under my mask a new normal staple too?”
So, what’s a ‘maskne’?
Acne Mechanica, or more commonly known as mask acne, has been dubbed as “maskne” in social media. It is a skin condition caused by wearing personal protective equipment on your face for a long period of time. When you breathe or talk, a lot of hot air is trapped in your mask and creates a warm humid environment.
According to Dr. Genevieve Chi-De Guzman, a fellow of the Philippine Dermatological Society and the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the combination of heat, sweat, and prolonged occlusion from wearing masks clog the pores and allow bacterial growth to occur and eventually become pimples or acne cysts.
Facemasks and Allergies
Aside from acne, Dr. Chi noticed that there has been a rise in the number of patients with contact dermatitis since the pandemic started. Contact dermatitis is a red itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it.
There are commercially available facemasks that are pre-treated and disinfected with formaldehyde. If your mask happens to be one of those and you are allergic to that chemical, a breakout may occur. Synthetic fabrics may also be an issue for some people. Likewise, when washable face masks are laundered with heavily scented detergents or softeners, it can cause itching, redness, or rashes. Opting for a natural fiber cloth mask and using unscented laundry products is highly recommended to prevent skin irritation.
Dr. Chi advised wearing clean face masks at all times. She said we must treat our facemasks like underwear and wash them frequently. Heat and moisture make the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow, so we may not want sweat and oil to accumulate in the mask constantly and reapply it to our face.
She recommends using gentle laundry soap for washing and ensuring that it is properly rinsed to avoid additional irritation. And when not in use, storing fresh masks in a bag to keep them clean and untouched would be the right thing to do.
It is advisable to continue with your everyday skincare routine and to not forget washing your face before and after wearing a mask. According to Dr. Chi, gentle cleansers and fragrance-free products are the go-to for all skin types. Moisturizing before applying a facemask does not only keep your skin hydrated but also protects from mask friction just like what a runner’s chafing cream does.
She further advised picking moisturizers that are oil-free and non-comedogenic to prevent clogging of pores. Maintaining a healthy skin barrier also helps fight off breakouts. Products for the skin should be recommended by a dermatologist or FDA-approved, she added. For a tailor-fit regimen, it is best to consult a dermatologist to make sure that the skin products you will be using match your skin type.
As cliché as it sounds, Dr. Chi assures that having good skin is still an interplay of eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercise, getting enough rest and sleep. She cautioned not to be tempted to touch and prick your pimples when acne arises as it might only do more harm than good. Lastly, consulting your trusted dermatologist would be wise to get the best solution for your skin problems.
Wearing a mask is still recommended
‘Maskne’ may be frustrating, but ditching the mask is an absolute no-no! It’s true that it takes time to get used to wearing a mask all the time (and may be annoying, too). But when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19, wearing a face mask is our first line of defense.
The problem of ‘maskne’ can always be fixed with a trip to our trusted dermatologist. Along with a skin expert, the drugstore and your favorite beauty counter, coupled with a healthy lifestyle can always help you get your glass skin back. More importantly, if you end up with the virus, your skin will be the least of your worries.
By wearing a mask, we not only protect ourselves but also the others from the virus. That’s the least thing we can do to help and show respect to other people, especially those in the frontline.
Written by: Nadynne Esguerra
Genevieve Chi- De Guzman, MD
Fellow, Philippine Dermatological Society
Fellow, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery