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HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT

The new phrase ‘MASK-NE”, which combines the words “mask” and “acne” – has recently sprung up all over social media as people are venting their woes from a new kind of facial malady. While masks play a vital role in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, they can also be hard on your skin, causing problems that range from acne and peeling skin to rashes and itchiness.

Maskne — the most common kind of which is acne mechanica, aka the type of acne a football player may get where the helmet rubs; is also enough of a thing that the Covid-19 task force of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) felt compelled to release advice on the subject.

“Oh, it’s a real thing,” said Dr Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. She herself has gotten maskne from her three layers of masks: a KN95 (similar to an N95) topped with a surgical mask to keep it clean, plus a face shield if she is doing procedures.

Research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that at least 83 percent of healthcare workers in Hubei, China, suffered skin problems on the face. And anecdotally, doctors report an increase in acne flare-ups in people outside of healthcare as well. That is because masks can worsen skin issues that already exist or cause new ones. Add in the heat and humidity and you have a petri dish for breakouts.

So how does the mask play into maskne?

Here are just a few ways masks can cause acne:

Moisture – When confined beneath the fabric of a mask, your breath creates a humid environment. Humidity is the enemy of clear skin. That humidity becomes a breeding ground for acne.

Bacteria – Sweat, oil, and makeup can become trapped under the mask and clog pores and bacteria is constantly being reintroduced into your skin thanks to your hands. Every time you adjust your mask or even just put it on, you are introducing pore-clogging oil and dirt into your pores from your hands. Those clogged pores can result in, you guessed it, acne.

Friction – As you go about your day, your mask moves around your face, damaging the skin’s protective layer, sometimes called the “skin barrier.” And without that protective barrier, it is easier for bacteria and grime to settle into your pores and make pimple babies.

Warm weather – Heat and humidity can exacerbate acne, inside and outside the mask. Higher temperatures increase your face’s sweat and oil production and the more oil and sweat, the easier it is for bacteria to turn into blemishes.

No matter how you’re using your mask, maskne will probably be a consistent issue in the future. And left untreated, things could only get worse.

Is it serious? NO. Can Maskne be prevented? YES

1. Wash your face first

– Use a gentle cleanser that is free of fragrance and oil and rinse with lukewarm water. This prevents dirt and oil from being trapped on the skin’s surface, which causes breakouts. Your face should always be clean before you put on your mask.

2. Apply a moisturizer

– Not only will this keep your skin hydrated, but it will also act as a barrier between your face and your mask, reducing friction. Apply onto a cleansed face before and after wearing a mask. Look for moisturizers that contain ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or dimethicone, which will provide extra protection. Take care to avoid fragrances amongst other common contact allergens. This may take trial and error to find the right formulation for your skin type. Consult a dermatologist if further advice is required.

3. Ditch the makeup

– Wearing skin makeup under a mask causes clogged pores and breakouts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Makeup residue will also soil your mask and remain as a layer of friction to your skin.

4. Washing your mask

– If using a cotton mask, wash it after each use as its surface contains dirt and oil and can become a breeding ground for bacteria from your nose and mouth.

Choose a fragrance-free laundry soap, Fragrances can irritate your skin.

Skip the fabric softener, too.

5. Stay away from harsh products

– Medicated skin care products that contain benzoyl peroxide, retinols and salicylic acid will be more irritating to the skin under a mask. Be careful about how much and what you use.

“This is something that we’re going to have to get used to. I don’t see us not wearing any masks anytime soon,” says Dr Gohara. “So, it’s important to know how to prevent it from occurring.”

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