All About Acne Mechanica

Most of us are all too familiar with maskne: the breakouts that thrive as a result of prolonged mask wearing. Though it’s a relatively new phenomenon, maskne is a subset of a widely known skin condition called acne mechanica.

So what exactly is acne mechanica, and is there a way to manage or prevent it? For answers, we turned to the expert: Dr. Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper.

A woman with acne mechanica from wearing a mask

3 minute read

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What is acne mechanica?

We’ve talked about the effects of emotional stress on the skin before, but acne mechanica is caused by physical stress: when the skin experiences mechanical trauma leading to a breakout. Several factors come into play, including:

  • Heat: leads to increased perspiration and changes in the skin’s microbiome
  • Friction: creates irritation and compromises the skin barrier
  • Pressure: traps heat, perspiration, dead skin and microbes

Because it’s a type of acne vulgaris (the most common variety of acne), acne mechanica can present as either non-inflammatory blemishes, inflammatory blemishes, or both.

What causes acne mechanica?

Although originally studied by researchers as a sports-related form of acne, just about anything that meets the criteria for stressing the skin can lead to acne mechanica. Some of the most common triggers and their breakout areas include:

  • Masks: the “O” zone (mouth, mid cheeks, lower third of the nose)
  • Hats: forehead and back of the scalp
  • Collars: neck
  • Bra straps: shoulders, chest, back
  • Waistband: lower back, flanks
  • Helmets: temples, chin
  • Chafing: inner thighs, buttocks

Since acne mechanica looks so much like typical blemishes, the distinguishing factors are the location and cause of the breakouts.

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How do you treat acne mechanica?

Like other forms of blemishes, the best way to manage acne mechanica is to follow a consistent skincare routine that’s formulated for blemish-prone skin. Here are Dr. Lee’s recommendations: 

FACE 

For occasional breakouts, incorporate oil-soluble salicylic acid to help keep pores clear, and use retinol at night.

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For active breakouts, it’s important to follow a consistent regimen specifically formulated for blemish-prone skin, including ingredients like sulfur.

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BODY

For body breakouts, try products containing glycolic and salicylic acids to slough off dead skin and clear out pores.

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Ways to prevent acne mechanica

According to Dr. Lee, preventing acne mechanica involves both skincare (as noted above) and some lifestyle habits. These include:

  • Wash your mask, sports equipment, hats, etc. frequently
  • Remove equipment as soon as possible after wearing
  • Shower/wash your face as soon as possible after activities
  • Avoid synthetic or non-breathable fabrics as much as possible

Dr. Lee’s last word

With mask wearing now a part of everyday life, I’ve definitely seen a rise in acne mechanica. Maskne and other forms can be frustrating to manage, because there’s no way to get around what’s causing it. My best advice is to use skincare that’s specially formulated for blemish-prone skin, and keep the area (and your mask or equipment) as clean as possible.

—Dr. Sandra Lee

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