Along with your phone, keys, and wallet, face masks have become another essential to take with you before leaving your house.
While covering your face in public is one of the easiest best ways to protect yourself and prevent the spread of COVID-19, face masks have a couple side effects. The most common one is maskne, acne caused by, you guessed it, wearing a face mask.
Maskne was a common skin struggle this past summer because the heat can make you sweat under your mask, essentially creating a hot box for the bacteria, dirt, and oil that's trapped underneath it. Any friction and irritation from the mask also makes it easier for the bacteria and dirt to cause inflammation, leading to acne.
But, as we welcome fall and the season's cooler, drier air, will maskne still be the top pandemic-related skincare concern, or will there be different side effects of wearing masks that we may have to deal with?
These are the questions I asked myself as I put on my leather jacket and masked up on the first day the temperature dipped below the 70s.
So, I reached out to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Mona Gohara and Dr. Ava Shamban to get their expert thoughts on how wearing face masks may affect our skin this fall, plus their tips on how to treat said issues.
Expect Maskne to Still Be a Thing
The bad news: it's possible your mask might still make you break out despite the season change. The good news: there are a few ways you can prevent maskne.
"Generally the skin under the mask is naturally humidified from sweat, saliva, and moisture," says Dr. Gohara. "Dry skin may not be too much of an issue in that particular area, but maskne will prevail for sure because it's caused from friction and subsequent clogging of the pilosebaceous (acne forming) glands."
Dr. Gohara recommends using gentle products when dealing with maskne, including washing your face with a cleanser that doesn't contain harsh or abrasive ingredients. She recommends Dove Beauty Bar.
Her other tips include avoiding retinoids if you don't already use them, opting for a mild exfoliator, and switching to a lightweight moisturizer in lieu of a heavy cream. As for spot treatments for any mask-induced zits, she recommends benzoyl peroxide, one of the gold-standard ingredients for treating acne.
We're fans of Paula's Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment, a daily benzoyl peroxide treatment that doesn't dry out skin.
The mask you choose to wear is equally important as the skincare products you use. Cotton and throw-away masks cause the least friction, but it's crucial to wash your reusable mask after each wear.
As for makeup, it's best to skip applying it on areas of your face that are going to be covered by your mask. That being said, if you plan on meeting a friend for socially-distanced drink and want to conceal your maskne with some foundation, a mask bracket can keep your mask from rubbing against your skin.
The only problem? Dr. Shamban says it's important to consider that this hack may cause your mask to lift too far away from your mouth so it shouldn't be the sole way you wear your mask.
Ezcema & Other Inflammatory Skin Conditions May Flare Up
While the humidity works in eczema-prone skin's favor, as we go into the cooler months, the drier air might exacerbate eczema flare ups.
"Some of we know about eczema is that flare ups can be associated with changes in the skin microbiome," says Dr. Shamban.
Although the MD hasn't seen any mask-induced eczema in her patients just yet, she says that anyone if anyone does experience a flare up, they need to reconsider what they're using to wash their masks.
"If you are getting eczema, it can be from a detergent that has fragrance, so you want to wash it like delicate pair of underwear and you want to wash it as frequently as you do your underwear," she says. "You also want to wash it so you get rid of any built-up makeup or fragrance, if you are one of the people that just sort of sprays fragrance and walks into it or something, because anything that you could be sensitive to will aggravate eczema."
In short: use fragrance-free detergent and change your mask as often as your underwear.
Dr. Shamban and Dr. Gohara both agree that adding a weekly hydrating face mask to your routine can also help minimize dryness, which can contribute to eczema as well as maskne.
"[It] helps restore lipids will improve the barrier function of the skin and lesson the chance of you developing any of those skin conditions," says Dr. Shamban.
We recommend Skinceuticals Hydrating B5 Mask, a fragrance-free, lightweight maskcontaining barrier-repairing vitamin B5 and skin-plumping hyaluronic acid.
Along with eczema, rosacea and perioral dermatitis are two other conditions that may flare up while wearing a mask this fall.
"I think they are very similar, Dr. Shamban shares. "I've seen people get these like tiny little bumps around their nose or around their mouth, and it's not really acne, it's more inflammatory."
If you experience these bumps, Dr. Shamban recommends seeing a dermatologist to get a topical prescription such as azelaic acid. The Ordinary's Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is an over-the-counter option with a milder concentration.
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Rashes Around the Mouth Are Also Possible
You know when you wake up from a really deep sleep and have remnants of drool around your mouth? That gross (but totally normal) process has a medical name: perleche.
Dr. Shamban says it's possible to experience perleche when wearing a face mask, too.
"The saliva collects in the corners of the mouth and you get a rash," she explains. "So, the mask it creates a more humid environment because you're breathing in and out while wearing a well-fitting mask."
To avoid perleche, along with the other aforementioned potential mask side effects, sticking to a gentle, but effective skincare routine is crucial.
"In terms of prevention, I think you have to really pay attention to your skincare because you really can't get sloppy with a mask," Dr. Shamban says.
Aside from gentle cleansing and exfoliation, a solid, non-comedogenic moisturizer containing barrier-reinforcing ceramides is key. Skinmedica's TNS Ceramide Treatment Creamis a great option.