They call it ‘Maskne’.
As we all adjust to the new world of coronavirus, it seems that many of us are experiencing less than desirable effects on our skin – ‘maskne’ or rather, the unexpected breakouts, redness and inflammation of the face caused by wearing face coverings.
Maskne is a relatively new phenomenon in the public domain but it is known within the healthcare sector amongst workers wearing PPE for extended periods of time. The rise in reported inflamed skin conditions can seem like a mystery to us but let’s explore why wearing a face covering can compromise our skin’s health.
Why is this happening?
The skin of the face is not used to the hyperhydration effect of PPE, nor is it used to the constant friction and prolonged contact with materials. We also have to consider the physical pressure the mask places on the skin, particularly in pinch points like the nose or chin.
Factors to consider
The occlusive atmosphere of the breath trapped beneath the mask, and lack of oxygen (and increased CO2 and toxins released within the breath) affects the skin’s normal function causing pores to become blocked with sebum and sweat which in turn encourages bacterial growth (bacteria love to feed on these and bi-products of metabolism). Further exacerbated if you consider the bacteria harbouring in our mouths and on our teeth, particularly if we’ve not brushed after eating. You can see why this might lead to irritation, inflammation and breakouts.
The skin may also react (contact dermatitis) to the materials, or ingredients if you like, used to create the equipment like bleach, dyes and synthetic materials.
Contact dermatitis or dry skin can develop due to the friction of material or the mask’s components like the latex in the elastic; the bleach to whiten, or the dye to colour the item (usually blue). They may also have been in contact with the worker’s latex gloves.
Friction & Pressure
Friction and pressure points can develop, particular beneath the eyes – a delicate area of the face, as the tip of the mask rubs during wear. I’m personally constantly pulling my mask down as it migrates towards my lower lashes.
The bridge of the nose is also a common area to be affected, often the pinch point for the mask, especially if it has a metal bar which you can mould around your nose. The metals here could also be a trigger, especially if they contain nickel.
Warm environments will cause excessive sweating, further increasing the potential for irritation and those with acne might suffer the most due to the increase in bacterial activity. Bacteria love sweat!
Those with dry skin and compromised barrier function may see short-lived improvements due to the increase in moisture but ultimately the stress on the skin’s normal function will override any benefit.
Here is a list of symptoms that you may encounter
- Rough, bumpy skin from friction
- Epidermal barrier breakdown – erythema (redness), soreness, macerations, scaling, papules and weeping
- Burning, itching, and stinging
- Pruritus (tiny bumps) and folliculitis (bumps with puss) or exacerbated seborrheic dermatitis (severe scaly inflammation)
- Compromised barrier function due to excessive personal hygiene caused by stripping the skin of its natural oils and not replenishing them
So, is there anything we can do to minimise the risk of maskne?
In addition to being aware of the above, we can take what we already know of acne and other inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis, and put that knowledge to good use and establish a simple and safe routine for ourselves at home – essentially maintaining good skin health.
Here are my suggestions which appear to be in line with the world’s leading authorities in dermatological and public health.
Choose your mask fabric carefully.
Tightly woven natural fibres such as cotton or silk are more breathable and gentler on the skin than synthetic fabrics (which can feel damp quickly). Use unbleached and undyed if you can find it. I’ve used the organic face cleansing cloths that I sell instore to make my own masks. You can find these here. They are perfect for the government’s cloth face-covering templates.
2. Wash your face-covering regularly
Wash your covering regularly at 60oC (the minimum temperature to kill the virus* and most bacteria that feed off the skin cells and sebum that become trapped within the fibres and cause breakouts. I would recommend each wear but there’s a danger of becoming obsessive! Every third wear should suffice if you’re only wearing them to pop to the shop. You can sanitise them with a natural anti-bacterial like Any Moment Refreshing Mask Spray, 30ml.
3. Prevent chaffing
Consider applying an ointment or salve to protect sensitive areas from friction or chaffing whilst you’re wearing the mask. The most well-known is Vaseline. Focus primarily on areas of friction rather than applying it to the whole face. Ensure you remove any occlusive ointment when you’re no longer wearing the face-covering and cleanse your skin, replenishing it with calming and soothing ingredients like this naturally derived Gentle Couperose Cream. (Team Dr Joseph link in website). Should your symptoms persist please visit your chemist who may recommend a mild steroid cream, or a visit to the GP dependant on the severity of inflammation.
Maintain a healthy skincare regime
Protecting the skin’s barrier function (your skin’s capability of protecting itself) is vital for strong, healthy skin able to fend for itself. We tend to compromise it every day without realising it. Aside from weather, pollution and wear and tear, it has to defend itself against the chemicals we throw at it on a daily basis! Just think about your shower routine!
Choose natural non-irritating ingredients over ones with synthetic fragrances, dyes and fillers. Reducing your exposure to these not only reduces the risk of irritation for the skin but is also safer for you. Here at Soothe Luxury Skincare & Spa, we only stock and use naturally-derived skincare ‘safe for humans’. As you may be washing your face and hands more often you’ll want to use gentle cleansers and calming and healing moisturisers.
Take a look at our Team Dr Joseph and APoEM ranges in particular. They’re gentle enough for adults and children alike. We’ve put together a Covid-19 Soothe pack for the hands and the face. You can find them here.
Fifteen to create a visual for SM – Word doc provided with suggestions 23/07/20
Not sure why photos are pixellated! Will provide too.