With it now being mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport and in shops and salons to help curb the spread of coronavirus, it’s no surprise that this drastic lifestyle change has had a big impact on our skin.
Mask-induced acne - known as “maskne” - is on the rise, with Google searches for the term having increased 811% in June 2020 compared to June 2019, according to research by beauty ecommerce site Cosmetify. The condition leaves people suffering with chafed, irritated and blemish-prone skin around the mouth, chin and jaw line as a result of wearing a protective face covering for long periods of time.
The maskne struggle is real and it is going to be a tricky one to treat in salon because face coverings are an essential part of clients’ everyday lives and will be for the foreseeable future. Plus, if your clients are prone to breakouts already, then wearing a mask will amplify the issue. However, there’s lots you can do to help clients manage the symptoms of this condition.
“Understanding how maskne develops is the starting point to addressing the symptoms, acknowledging with a dose of pragmatism that complete elimination may not happen for everyone until there is no longer a requirement for the offending protection,” says Candice Gardner, education manager - digital and content - for Dermalogica. “That being said, there’s a lot that can be done to reduce the severity of the symptoms.”
What causes maskne?
For face masks to give adequate protection they need to fit well, especially around the nasal bridge and jaw line, but it’s the snug fit that’s the root cause of the problem. “Like with the condition acne mechanica, which is a type of acne caused by friction, increased heat and pressure, maskne is the result of the constant chafing of the mask on the skin, which causes it to become weak, lose water and allow bacteria in,” explains facialist Andy Millward.
“Meanwhile, the client’s trapped breath beneath the mask is creating a warm, sweaty environment, which results in accelerated oil production, challenging the skin’s microflora and microbiome.” All of these factors lead to clogged pores and a disruption of normal sebum production, creating the perfect storm for breakouts.
“The warm, moist environment is the ideal breeding ground for cutibacterium acnes (propionibacterium acnes) - bacteria commonly associated with inflamed and infected breakout lesions in acne conditions,” adds Gardner. “Initially, the skin may feel rough, but it gradually becomes bumpy, and then starts to develop more blackheads, raised papules and painful lesions.”
How can I treat the symptoms?
Getting maskne under control requires a strategy that covers both skincare and lifestyle tips. In consultation, ask your clients what type of mask they use and how often they clean it. Clients need to wear a clean face covering every day, and if they use a reusable fabric one, it needs to be washed thoroughly and left to dry completely.
“It’s about trying to reduce the bacterial build-up, which is beneficial for the skin, but also about ensuring the essential hygiene necessary for controlling coronavirus risks, too,” explains Gardner.
“Advise clients to avoid wearing make-up underneath the mask too if possible and introduce products into their regime that can help keep the skin clear, such as a prebiotic cleanser or a face wash with salicylic acid, which will reduce clogging and has an anti-inflammatory action.”
The consultation will also help you determine the type of treatment to recommend because your client’s skin history is so important when examining this condition, as Millward explains: “You have to appreciate that maskne is not your typical acne, so you can’t take the typical approach to treating it either.
“You need to work backwards as to why the condition is there in the first place. For example, did the client have an existing acne condition that is now being exacerbated by the face covering, or was the client’s skin perfectly clear beforehand and only breaking out now because of the mask? You have to piece together the inflammatory connection and go from there.”
However, whatever route you take, Millward says your first port of call should be restoring the skin’s natural barrier, “which needs to be supported at all times”. He recommends incorporating probiotic skincare into the client’s regime to support the microflora (the microorganisms that reside on the skin).
Maskne damages the skin too, so you’ll also need to make sure clients’ complexions are well hydrated to speed up the healing process. “Introduce products that will balance the skin’s pH levels between 4.5 and 5.75,” explains Charlene Stoker, head of education for Image Skincare. “If the skin is not balanced then it will encourage more bacteria to form, leading to even more breakouts.”
She adds: “Aloe vera is brilliant for calming and restoring the barrier function, while plant-derived beta vulgaris root is anti-itching, working to soothe irritated skin.” Other key ingredients that will support the skin include hyaluronic acid and plant oils rich in vitamin E and antioxidants, such as avocado, sunflower and chia seed oil.
What products and treatments should I avoid using on clients?
Gardner says you should avoid using artificially fragranced products or those with astringent botanicals in treatment as these can sting on application, potentially aggravating the irritated skin. “Use beta-glucan from oats or oat kernel oil instead, which is excellent at reducing inflammation, and vitamin B5, also known as panthenol, which is particularly good at promoting healing.”
Remember, acne is fundamentally a skin barrier disorder, so avoid overusing peels or exfoliating treatments when the barrier is already compromised because it will only make the condition worse.
“Maskne is not your typical acne, so you can’t take the typical approach to treating it”
“The last thing you want to do is use a harsh scrub over this area as it will aggravate it further, with the friction making breakouts redder and angrier,” says Stoker. “This can also lead to the spread of bacteria around the face.” Instead, use a gentle exfoliant “with either a mild AHA or BHA, providing the skin is not experiencing dermatitis or chafing,” says Gardner, and then follow with a light or mattifying moisturiser, “which will improve the skin’s barrier, help regulate sebum production and reduce irritation,” she adds.
Also, when choosing a spot treatment, opt for a less drying formula with salicylic acid to avoid irritating the skin when friction and rubbing are a concern. However, everyone’s skin is different, so start small and build on your treatment.
“Treating the skin is like a marathon. You don’t do the full run without some training, and it’s the same with the skin - you need to build it up to the more advanced stuff,” explains Stoker.
“Start clients with a light jog, which would be your enzyme peel treatment to calm the inflammation and brighten the skin; and then the next time they see you, increase the peel’s time and start to add in active ingredients like glycolic acid to really ramp up the results. It’s important to be progressive, not aggressive, when treating acne.”