Mask wearing has become a critically important accessory of safety in America in 2020 while wearers protect and consider the health risks faced by others. You may notice that, during this time, you have contracted a bad case of “Maskne”- general irritation caused by the abrasion and bacteria gathered within a face covering.
The greatest cause of Maskne may be the humid environment created by trapped breath (NY Times). This heat causes sebaceous glands, small pockets that produce pus to lubricate hair follicles, or pores, to work harder than usual in their role of cooling down the body. These glands work with the eccrine glands that produce sweat to reduce the speed of the evaporation of water from the body, keeping it at a comfortable temperature of around 98 degrees Fahrenheit. When more sweat becomes trapped beneath a hot, humid mask, it loosely locks the impurities that may have left the pores or have been resting on the face in place, coercing them back into the follicles.
You move your tongue, and the mask grazes your chin. You yawn, and the mask stretches over your mouth. You speak to the cashier at checkout, and your mask rides along your nose. Microadjustments such as these made while wearing a mask may also contribute to the inflammation that causes Maskne. The irritation itself may not directly cause white-tipped pustules to appear on the wearer’s face, but it may contribute to general redness and in some cases, or papules (an elevated and reddened area on the skin). The friction created by the movement, even if the adjustment is small and unconscious, can cause irritation of preexisting or forming acne.
In order to prevent the effects of these given general causes, the cleanliness of the mask should be considered, as it poses several risks. Although a dirty mask can trap acne-causing bacteria, a clean mask may still pose a risk of irritation. Masks should be washed with a mild soap after use rather than a scented detergent that can cause itching, rashes, and redness on the skin. In order to avoid trapping bacteria on the skin, the mask-wearer should make sure to gently cleanse their chin and nose before wearing the mask, moisturizing after cleansing. Knowing one’s fabric and fragrance allergies can help identify the causes of Maskne, but generally, choosing a mask made from naturally sourced fibers can ensure general prevention of allergy and fragrance-induced irritation (Johns Hopkins Medicine). A smooth, soft texture can also prevent friction that causes irritation during adjustment.
For men or women that shave their faces frequently, mask wearing may pose more of an issue. Existing irritation caused by a routine that does not cater to the protection of the skin barrier may be elevated by the humid, bacteria trapping environment underneath a mask. In a 2017 infographic intended to advise men with facial hair how to groom their style to effectively use a filtering facepiece. Styles that include a thick beard around the jawline and chin are discouraged. Though some may keep their styles as they are, they run the risk of a looser fitting mask and an awkward positioning of hair. For those that shave thick jawline and chin beards, staying generally safer for themselves and others, Maskne may pose a greater risk-- a reasonable and mildly preventable price to pay for public safety.
In order to prevent Maskne after shaving, adopt a routine that serves to protect the skin barrier. First, ensure the skin is gently cleansed with a mild, non-comedogenic cleanser, so bacteria is not scraped over or into the skin. Lightly exfoliating the skin may gently aid the process at the individual’s discretion- as there is a fine line between exfoliation and irritation. However, exfoliation may prevent later irritation by lifting their hairs from the skin, ensuring an easier glide off the face (Shave.net). After applying a non-comedogenic shaving foam, a two to four blade razor should be used while shaving, accounting for the individual’s sensitivity. A clean new two-blade razor may be best fit for sensitive skin-- ensuring a light pressure is applied to remove all hairs. The routine should end by applying a light and gentle moisturizer, nourishing the fresh-shaven face.
Maskne may be a given to susceptible groups, however, it can be carefully prevented through cleanliness and awareness of the safety of routines.
"Coronavirus: Tips to Avoid "Maskne" Skin Irritation." Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in