Facing Maskne: Taking Care of Your Skin Under the Mask

Ava Martin, Writer

Disclaimer: This is not an anti-mask article. Please continue to take care of your health by wearing masks as advised. Beautiful skin can come second.

            As teenagers in 2021, we seem to be guaranteed two things: relentless acne and constant mask-wearing. Unfortunately, these things are not mutually exclusive. Though masks protect against nearly everything else, they sure do exacerbate skin issues.

            “I get a lot of cheek acne now because of the mask,” says senior Larissa Gosslau. “[But] since the mask is covering it, I don’t really do anything about it.”

            It’s not just acne, either; 8th grader Maddie Walsh attests her skin’s novel dryness and irritation to mask-wearing. “Also [it could be] since it’s becoming fall,” she adds.

            These cloth coverings seem to be affecting everyone’s epidermis, but what’s the actual science behind this grease, dirt, and buildup? And why in the world are these bacteria defenders so offensive towards our skin?

            “Masks impose heat, friction, and occlusion on the skin,” explains Harry Dao, MD, FAAD, dermatologist at Loma Linda University Health. “When combined with a moist environment from breathing, talking, or sweating, this is a recipe for breakouts.” Basically, all that grossness that your mask prevents from escaping is trapped behind it, meaning that everything that would normally air out and disappear is now hanging out in very close proximity to your skin. Pores get clogged and can become pimples or cysts. On top of that, the prolonged occlusion, heat and sweat can cause the skin to become dry, itchy and raw. On the bright side, this does mean that the mask is doing its job!

            However, as teenagers in 2021, we are also self-conscious creatures who don’t exactly welcome acne and irritation with open arms. So, if you’re feeling (and seeing) the effects of this trapped moisture and bacteria, here’s what can you do about it:


Clean your mask often 


            Once all of that grossness hits your mask and clings to it, it’s not going anywhere. This means that, no matter how much you will it to, it’s not just going to evaporate off the face of the earth; make sure you’re washing your mask often, ideally daily, or switching out your mask frequently to prevent old bacteria from adding to the onslaught of pore-clogging.


Remove your mask (when you can)


            Without masks, that heat and sweat usually airs out throughout the day and is less likely to clog your pores. But, because wearing a mask as often as possible is essential, remove it only occasionally to let your skin breathe. Please only remove your mask if you are outdoors and/or at least six feet from others.


Amp up your skincare routine


            Though this is the most obvious advice, it’s easier said than done. It’s often difficult to find products that actually work. Your new skincare routine might look something like what these Whitney Young students have been doing differently:

            “I use these things called Noxzema pads,” shares sophomore Tyson Kenneth, “which helps my face not break out. And so it doesn’t.”

            “I’ve been washing my face more regularly with a moisturizer,” says Maddie Walsh. “Using moisturizer, using lotion, stuff like that.”

            Or maybe you haven’t changed much, and you’re okay with that. “I can’t really say I’ve been doing anything,” laughs Larissa Gosslau. `The truth is that different products will work differently for everyone, so it’s really up to you to test and find out what keeps your skin dewy and healthy. Dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD, for example, recommends using a toner at night that will remove any extra dirt, oil, or makeup. Other products like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, vitamin C, and water-based moisturizers (used in moderation) may help you on your skin-soothing journey.

            Whether or not you find yourself affected by these skin ailment issues, taking care of yourself and your skin are important matters. Please stay safe in the more serious COVID-19 pandemic by continuing to wear your mask and taking care of your skin in the aftermath; stay on top of that trapped bacteria and, at the very least, wash your face. (And your hands!)

Above: Flip the Dolphin in a mask. Photo courtesy of Ava Martin