Breaking Down Mask Irritation

Adapting to pandemic life has given skincare enthusiasts a whole new meaning to the term face mask. While face coverings have become a part of everyday life during the COVID-19 outbreak, so have the skin conditions — coined maskne and mastitis — they commonly produce.

Fan favourite skincare source and founder of SLMD Skincare, Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), is here to help you distinguish the difference between maskne and maskitis, and to tell you how to tame the two.

Disposable face masks that cause maskne and mask irritation according to SLMD Skincare founder Dr. Pimple Popper

What is maskne?

Technically called acne mechanica, maskne is basically a breakout under your mask.

  • What triggers maskne: heavy clothing or protective gear (like masks or athletic helmets) pressing or rubbing against the skin
  • Who’s more prone to maskne: those who have oily skin, are already blemish-prone, and/or are wearing makeup under the mask are more likely to experience maskne

“Wearing a mask for a long period of time promotes occlusion - clogging of the pores with dirt and bacteria and dead skin cells and oil. Increased humidity under a mask due to breathing, speaking into the enclosed space, wearing makeup, having oilier skin etc. also promote acne to occur in that area,” says Dr. Sandra Lee.

Dr. Pimple Popper’s tips for treating maskne

  • Incorporate alpha/beta-hydroxy acids into your routine. Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and retinol are some of Dr. Sandra Lee’s favourites — so much so, that she incorporated them into her own SLMD Skincare products. Two to try:
  • Use products formulated with anti-bacterial agents. Sulfur is a natural mineral ideal for sensitive and/or blemish-prone skin. Where to find it:

Blemish Prone Skin System Salicylic Acid Cleanser, Sulfur Lotion, Retinol Serum, Facial Moisturizer

What is maskitis?

While maskne is characterized by pimples, maskitis is marked by dry, red, irritated and inflamed skin that isn’t acne.

  • What triggers maskitis: allergic reactions to the mask itself, as well as irritation from the mask rubbing against skin, can lead to maskitis
  • Who’s more prone to maskitis: people who more regularly experience dermatitis and eczema are more likely to experience maskitis

Dr. Pimple Popper’s tips for treating maskitis

  • Keep your hands off your face. Complications arise when people scratch their rashes. If you scratch your rash, you may experience immediate relief — but know that you are also introducing more bacteria from your nails and fingers into the area, which may cause an infection and will ultimately make the situation worse.
  • Incorporate nourishing ingredients into your skincare routine. Antioxidant ingredients (like vitamin C, niacinamide, colloidal oatmeal), and those that strengthen the skin barrier (like ceramides and vitamin E) are great picks:

SLMD Facial Moisturizer: This lightweight, non comedogenic lotion contains non-occlusive moisturising ingredients, plus skin brightening vitamin C.

Dr. Lee’s last word

While mask wearing has become a way of life (at least for now), the good news is that maskne and maskitis can be managed, with a few adjustments to your daily skincare routine. I tell patients to keep pores clear with salicylic acid and change your face covering regularly to help prevent maskne. And to soothe maskitis irritation, moisturize then treat with skin-calming hydrocortisone.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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