As of January 3, 2021, 90 percent of Malaysians wear face masks in public places due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This number has increased to 29.5 million from 18 million in February 2020. However, wearing protective face masks to help slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19, has also taken a toll on our skin.
There are multiple types of face masks out there. You can find disposable face masks, washable fabric masks, or even homemade masks fashioned out of scarves or bandanas. Whatever the type of face masks you are using, a host of skin problems have occurred. And unfortunately, face masks are becoming a regular part of our daily wardrobe. Here, Dr Ingky will explain a bit more about maskne and how it occurs.
What is Maskne?
If you religiously wear a face mask, you may have noticed your skin, especially on your chin, nose and cheeks reacting negatively. This is what we call maskne. Maskne is acne that sits in areas where your mask touches your face. Maskne happens when bacteria, oil and sweat are trapped on your skin because of the mask.
This type of acne is different from blemishes caused by hormones like cystic acne. It is caused by external factors. Maskne is commonly found on the bridge of your nose, your cheeks and your chin.
How could a face mask affect your skin?
At rest, we breathe 12 – 15 times per minute, inhaling and exhaling 0.4 – 0.5 L of air with each breath. When it comes to maskne, it’s the air that we exhale that we should worry about. The exhaled air contains less oxygen and carbon dioxide but way more water vapour compared to the air that we inhale. When we breathe under our mask, either through our noses or mouth, our masks will trap the water vapour that we breathe out. The constantly trapped water vapour and moisture can create or exacerbate existing skin problems. The amount of humidity that builds up between your mouth and the mask can alter the pH of your skin and make you more prone to three issues:
- Bacterial overgrowth can result in folliculitis or infected hair follicles
- Yeast overgrowth can result in perleche or cheilitis, which can present as persistent chapped lips or dry cracked corners of the mouth
- Perioral dermatitis, a variant of rosacea that can present as dry patches around the mouth and painful deep cystic pimples.
In addition to factors like trapped water vapour and moisture, there is a number of other factors to consider. One of them is the friction of the mask against your face. The friction of the cloth of the mask against the skin damages the outer protective layer of the skin and makes it more sensitive, causing more oil glands to clog, resulting in more acne.
There is also the constant adjustment of the face mask, especially when you're first getting used to wearing one. There's a good chance you've been touching your face even more with a mask. Adjusting it to avoid fogging up your glasses or just to talk on the phone. Therefore, there are more touches and hence, more friction.
How to prevent maskne?
Since it is likely that we will need to continue wearing a face mask in public for the foreseeable future, it might help to follow these maskne prevention tips.
Applying moisturizer can help protect your skin and relieve itching and irritation. Apart from moisturizer, the kind of mask that is best to wear right now are those that have the least friction. Cotton is the best fabric on the inner lining touching the skin because it is less irritating than synthetic materials. To avoid rubbing and skin damage, the mask should not be too tight. If you choose to use a cloth mask, you should wash it every day.
So yes, Maskne is real...
Symptoms may include chafing and irritation, along with pimple-like bumps if you have rosacea or dermatitis. Although maskne can be frustrating, it’s important to keep wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regular face-washing, moisturizing, and wearing the right type of mask may help prevent skin problems. If your maskne is more severe, or if it still persists after trying these recommendations, be sure to follow up with your dermatologist or healthcare provider.
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