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As Masks Become a Mainstay, So Does Maskne

BalmLabs’ Chief Dermatologist, Dr. Robin Schaffran, Shares Her Tips on How to Tackle 2020’s Distressing New Skin Condition

I recently polled a small group of Board-certified dermatologists and asked them if they’d seen a spike in acne-related patient inquiries since the pandemic. Almost half of them said yes, and one culprit that was front and center was – you guessed it – masks. 

Sweat and oil build-up on the skin during the day. This combined with the humidity from breathing into the mask increases the ph of the skin, which can cause bacterial and yeast overgrowth on the skin.  Add in the constant rubbing of the mask on the face and you have the perfect recipe for irritation, clogged pores and increased acne breakouts.

So what can you do about it?  Plenty. Here are my five tips on how to take control of your maskne and prevent future flare-ups.

Build a Healthy Skin Barrier

The skin barrier, or the stratum corneum, is the outermost layer of skin cells, which are held together by a naturally-occurring mix of lipids (ceramides and fatty acids). An easy way to visualize it is a brick wall – the bricks are the skin cells, and the lipid mix is the mortar, holding them all together.

The skin barrier plays an important role in protecting against irritants and bacteria. As you age, your skin barrier naturally weakens, which makes adults at an even higher risk of developing maskne due to their already sensitized skin. A compromised skin barrier can present itself as irritation, inflammation, flaking, dryness, and dreaded breakouts.

So how do you build a healthy skin barrier to help protect from mask irritation? Utilizing a light moisturizer twice daily that is formulated for sensitive skin with a combination of barrier-boosting active ingredients. These are:

  • Hyaluronic Acid – a mega-hydrator and a must-have to protect your skin barrier
  • Niacinamide – reduces redness and helps to renew and restore the surface of the skin by boosting the natural production of ceramides
  • Bixa Orellana Seed Extract – rich in carotenoids, which is a powerful antioxidant, further protecting your skin from free radicals
  • Hemp-derived CBD to soothe inflammation and irritation

Applying a light moisturizer prior to putting on your mask will also help diminish friction between the skin and the mask, thus diminishing risk of irritation.

Take a Product Holiday

That 12-step Korean skincare regimen can be far more harmful than helpful in preventing maskne. Avoid using any scrubs, active acids (i.e. salicylic acid), oil-stripping cleansers or other harsh ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, alcohol or retinol. Fragrant essential oils can also be irritating and should be avoided.

Strip back your routine and opt for simple, sensitive skincare. I recommend using a gentle, non-drying exfoliating face wash twice daily, followed by a calming hydrating serum. 

A pore-refining liquid exfoliant, like the ClearBalm Power Elixer, can also be integrated into your routine as a gentle rejuvenation treatment, or as a spot treatment.

Up Your Intake of Antioxidant-Rich Foods and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Your diet does have an effect on your skin, and consuming certain foods can help in strengthening your skin barrier.  Almonds, sunflower and flax seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, which have been shown to protect skin cells. Green tea is rich in antioxidants called catechins, which help maintain skin cell health. Finally, foods rich with the antioxidants called carotenoids protect the skin from free radical damage. Choose vibrant green, yellow, orange or red fruits and vegetables, like mangos, papayas, carrots, spinach and bell peppers.

Wash Your Mask Daily

Washing your fabric mask daily is an additional step in your line of defense against harmful bacteria and irritants touching the skin. A simple way to adopt a daily mask washing routine is to integrate it into your evening cleansing regimen. When you wash your face, wash your mask! Use a hypoallergenic, unscented soap and warm water, massage for 20 seconds, rinse and hang to dry overnight. In a pinch? A few pumps of your Gentle Foam Cleanser should also be helpful.

Bring Down the Temperature

It’s time to take a break from hot, steamy showers. Washing your face with tepid water diminishes irritation and flare-ups in the skin.

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