What is 'maskne'?
If you haven't had your first case of maskne yet, consider yourself lucky - for now. A mashup of 'mask' and 'acne', maskne refers to the telltale pattern of blemishes, tracing the area of your face typically covered by a mask.
As more and more of us wise up to the protective benefits of wearing a mask, this skin condition is becoming more and more common.
So why does it happen?
The hot, damp environment between your skin and a mask - soaked in all your natural sebum and cosmetic residue - is the perfect place for acne-causing microbes like campylobacter to breed.
Add the friction and irritation from cotton and plastic, and it's no wonder so many faithful mask wearers the world over have the characteristic jawline to cheekbone rash.
Luckily, there's something you can do about this - 9 things in fact:
Step One: Double cleanse to reduce your maskne risk
K-beauty enthusiasts have been double-cleansing religiously since forever, and in this mask-wearing era, the benefits are clearer still. Double cleansing means washing your face with an oil-based cleanser, followed by a second cleanse using a foaming, water-based face wash.
Because it tackles both oily soils and particulate residue, this method easily lifts layers of makeup, moisturiser, dead skin cells, grease and grime - the very ingredients that feed maskne.
That said, there's no need to overdo it. Double cleanse once at the end of the day, when you've removed your mask for the day. Using this method multiple times daily could easily send your sebum production into overdrive, making your maskne way worse.
Step Two: Wear less makeup
Go nude, even. When nobody can see half your face, is even BB creme necessary? Your skin will breathe a lot easier with a light, non-comedogenic lotion, or a tiny drop of dry oil massaged onto wet skin.
Remember to let it soak in all the way before putting on your mask so there's no excess surface residue for acne-creating campylobacter and their friends to lurk in.
Step Three: Rock a silicone mask to reduce maskne irritation
Silicone slides frictionlessly onto your face so there's none of that instant irritation brewing like when you use scratchy or overly fluffy fabrics. Since the surface is super smooth, a silicone mask can be worn for hours with zero chafing.
Because the material is highly flexible, masks made from silicone, like this 'Breathe Easy' Face Mask by GIR, also mould to your features, making it easier to create a good seal, and a comfortable fit.
Silicone is also super easy to sanitise after each use, so there's less of a chance of skin-inflaming microbes hanging around for the next day's wear: just wipe your mask clean with an antimicrobial wipe or soap it up for 30 seconds and rinse in hot water - just like washing your hands.
Oh, and the smooth silicone ear loops and straps won't scrape and snag your curls like cloth or plastic mask straps.
Step Four: Don't re-wear a dirty mask
At the end of a long hard day, it's easy to contemplate skipping the whole mask washing step - you know, just this one time.
Resist the temptation.
If you've worn a mask for hours, consider it soiled even if it looks fine. Re-wearing a dirty mask not only flips it from protection to biohazard, it's also the dream environment for maskne-making microbes which will multiply like crazy on your skin.
Make it easier on yourself and forget trying to get by with just one mask; you need multiples so you can always grab a clean one in a rush.
And if you know in your heart that scrubbing, soaking and airdrying that cute cotton mask is too much to ask, then get a silicone one you can wipe clean and dry in seconds.
Step Five: Avoid harsh ingredients and products
Thinking of tackling your maskne hyperpigmentation with a vitamin C peel or maybe a retinol serum? Don't.
"This is not the time to be introducing harsh new skincare ingredients into your skincare routine," according to dermatologist Dr Sivanie Sewell. She recommends steering clear of retinoids and chemical face peels, in particular. Applying these intense pH-shifting products to your skin when you're wearing a mask every day is the quickest way to make your skin extra sensitive and trigger a face-wide breakout.
If you do get a maskne breakout, Dr Sewell advises, it's much better to spot apply acne medication to the actual area, rather than attempting to treat your whole face. If that doesn't do the job, or you're concerned about scarring, then consulting your doctor or dermatologist is the safest step.
Step Six: Use filters in your mask and change them regularly
What do you do if your mask starts to gets damp around the mouth and nose, with saliva, sweat or sebum?
This wetness happens often, with cloth masks in particular, and the advice is to change masks when it does.
Not only is a wet mask useless at preventing the spread of respiratory droplets, it's also a perfect maskne-creating environment. When you use a filter, you're much more likely to prevent that soak through - and you get that added barrier against microbes, dust and pollution.
Keep a stash of universal filters on you, like these ones, available here. You can pop them into pretty much any mask to afford you an extra 4 layers of protection.
This way, you don't have to throw away your whole mask before its time: just switch out the filter and keep it moving.
Step Seven: Switch to less greasy products
Many naturals spurn the petroleum products of yore, yet most natural products are just as greasy as old school grease.
That's because they tend to be based on oils or butters, occlusive ingredients which prevent dryness, and add shine and smoothness, especially on medium to high porosity hair. Unfortunately, these types of ingredients are also known for their greasiness and tendency to drip - often in the direction of your face.
Product buildup swirling on your skin with dirt, sweat or sebum, all held in place by your mask is a perfect storm for maskne. But you do you have haircare options that won't tip your skin into a breakout.
First off, a leave in doesn't have to contain tons of oil to work on natural hair. Switching to water-based moisturizers means you're less likely to get greasy, maskne-prone skin, plus these formulas are often more hydrating than their oil-based counterparts, especially on low porosity hair.
A great example of this type of product is Capilo La Aplanadora Leave In: it has the kind of penetrating moisture that lasts for days so you don't need to keep reapplying. Ingredients-wise, the high humectant to occlusive ratio helps it sink in easy on moisture resistant hair, and there's not a trace of oiliness once you apply and airdry.
And don't sleep on gels: homemade flax seed gel is a great sealant that won't dry out your hair or flake. Capilo Pro's B-Natural gel - based on aloe and coconut - is another good option for sealing or defining.
Step Eight: Deep cleanse your hair to prevent product spillover
Now is not the time to be relying exclusively on co-washing. Shampoo will get your hair cleaner, which means less residue runoff to feed the maskne potential on your face.
Using deep-cleansing shampoos like atrActiva Anti-Stress Shampoo every so often, and less intensive cleansers like Halka Baba de Caracol Sulphate-Free Shampoo on a regular basis, will keep your skin clearer and help your conditioner penetrate your hair better.
The conditioner you use after you cleanse matters too: opting for super concentrated formulas like Mayoliva by Boé or La Aplanadora Treatment that hydrate and soften intensely without leaving behind oily buildup is key to limiting residue that could impact your skin. As a rule, if your conditioner is super effective, it means you automatically need less product to control your curls.
The benefits are threefold: Not only do your staple stylers last longer because you're using smaller amounts, but your hair is actually easier to style and your pores get clogged less because there's less residue from your hair stuff under your mask.
To reduce your need for product even further, you can look into moisture training your hair, too.
Step Nine: Keep your hair off your face
It may be trending, but try to ignore the post-lockdown fringe or the random in-your-face twist or braid. Even if you're not prone to the T-zone breakouts hair in the face can bring, give that same grime the time to accumulate under a mask and see what it can do.
Instead, opt for clean, pulled back looks or side-swept styles that frame the face without actually touching the face. That will help prevent you inadvertently touching your face if you have to keep adjusting your hair. After all, right now, your mask is pretty much the only thing that needs to be touching your face.
Find out more about breathable silicone face masks here. And more about moisture training your hair here.
DHA Hair Care Experts