Updated: Feb 4
“Maskne” is a new term that appeared from two words mask and acne.
The world has faced a lot of changes over the last year. COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of fear, uncertainty, and frustration into everyone’s lives.
We must wear a face-covering in all public places to protect ourselves and others from the virus.
You got lucky to work from home and have to wear a face mask only when you go to the grocery store. However, many of us must wear a face covering all day long at our jobs.
Despite the discomfort of not breathing normally and getting a sufficient amount of oxygen, many of us struggle with acne flare-ups.
"Maskne" has become a second pandemic nowadays. Those who struggled with acne before got a significant worsening in their condition. Moreover, people who have never broken out before started noticing many pimples around their mouth and jawline, which worsen and spread all over their faces.
Why does wearing a mask make your skin breakout?
To answer this question, we first have to understand the most common causes and aggravators of acne.
This acne is categorized by blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, pustules, and cysts with debris inside.
Oil, inflammation, plug, and bacteria are the main building blocks for acne. People who suffer from acne have all of these components. However, they differ in the amount. Therefore, the appearance and type of acne lesion. Even the most innocent blackheads have bacteria inside but in much less quantity than a blemish, for example.
Bacterial acne is caused by P. acnes bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes). This bacteria lives at the base of the hair follicle. P.acnes secretes substances that help it to break down sebum and have it as its food.
When there is a trigger like nutrient deficiency, stress, or hormonal changes, the production of sebum increases, so increases the food supply for P. acnes. In high quantities, the substance that P.acnes secretes for the sebum processing causes an immune response, followed by inflammation. As a result, we get the pore clogged with sebum, bacterial overgrowth, and inflammation inside our breakout.
This type of acne is very similar in appearance to the “traditional or normal” acne. However, the trigger here is fungus or yeast pityrosporum.
It is a natural living organism that lives on the skin. It is a normal part of your microbiome. However, when the counts get a little higher, usually in the oilier parts of your face or in a humid climate or a yeast infection in your body that causes other symptoms, the fungus on your face overgrows, causing fungal acne.
It is essential to point out that fungal acne is commonly referred to as pityrosporum folliculitis, also known as Malassezia folliculitis. The reason is if you take a close look at the bumps that represent fungal acne, you will see that they are located around the hair follicle.
Malassezia folliculitis is developed under certain factors like antibiotic use, humid climate, excessive sweating, and the use of occlusive products on your skin.
Malassezia lesions are represented as small, uniform papules and pustules. They might be a little itchy, which is one of the main distinctions from regular acne; however, not on everyone.
Being caused by the fungus overgrowth, Pityrosporum folliculitis does not respond to the same acne medication you use to treat bacterial acne. There is a whole different strategy on how to treat fungal acne.
Why does acne get worse from wearing a mask?
We have already discussed that any kind of pimple or zit on your face is caused by either excessive presence of P.acnes bacteria, fungus overgrowth, or both.
As I have already mentioned earlier, bacterial acne is triggered by internal factors like stress, nutrition, hormonal fluctuations, and external like using occlusive products that trap sebum in the follicle. However, if you are prone to breakouts or already have a couple of pimples here and there, wearing a face mask makes it worse.
P.acnes bacteria strives in a humid, moist environment. When you put your mask on you, cover your nose and mouth. As a result, a greenhouse effect is happening on your face — more sweat and accumulation of the oil meaning more food for P.acnes bacteria.
The same thing with yeast overgrowth; a combination of heat, humidity, and the mask rubbing against your face exacerbates underlying conditions and makes you develop “fungal acne.”
Steps to prevent and treat MASKNE breakouts.
Now that you know that breakout lesions exist with the presence of bacteria or fungus or both. It is essential to take the right steps to minimize and prevent acne breakouts.
1. Make sure you clean your face twice a day. I prefer using a non-foaming gel cleanser that does not strip the protective barrier of your skin. You can double cleanse if you choose that. I recommend using MCT oil for your first cleanse as it is non-comedogenic and does not feed bacterial or fungal acne. After that, you are following with a non-foaming gel cleanser.
2. Whether it is bacterial or fungal acne, you do not want to use a lot of oil on your skin.
Let me clarify. Since bacteria and fungus strive and feed on oils, make sure your skincare and makeup do not contain comedogenic oils in it. Read your skincare product’s ingredients list!
Avoid oils like coconut oil, soybean oil, avocado oil, palm oil.
If you are dealing with bacterial acne, some oils might help treat the lesion. I recommend testing a product or oil for about two weeks to see if that does not make your breakouts worse.
If you think that you deal with Malassezia, then avoid any oils regardless of their comedogenic rate.
Only a few oils are acceptable to use on your face that will not feed yeast. Those are mineral oil, MCT oil, and squalane oil.
3. Use active ingredients.
If you are dealing with bacterial acne, things like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, topical retinoids, and azelaic acid can kill bacteria, unclog the pore, and heal the acne lesion faster.
In the case of Malassezia, you want to use ingredients that combat a yeast infection. Things like propolis, honey, green tea extract, sulfur, adapalene (a topical retinoid), azelaic acid, salicylic acid.
4. Do not apply foundation if you know you will be wearing a mask for a prolonged period.
An extra layer of a product combined with rubbing from the mask irritates and clogs pores.
5. Change your mask every couple of hours. Yes, you have read it right:) Stock up on a pile of covers and change them throughout the day.
6. If you use reusable masks, wash them at the end of the day. Do not reuse a dirty mask the next day. A dirty mask is a breeder for bacteria.