MASKNE: Help! What is maskne and what can I do about it?


With masks becoming obligatory facial accessories recently as an attempt to help control coronavirus spread, a new phenomenon has begun to rear it’s ugly head, aptly termed ‘maskne’. What is maskne though, I hear you ask? Well, over the last couple of months, I’ve been seeing many people in clinic who are complaining that their skin is showing signs of irritation and breakouts around the mask area, particularly with certain types of face masks. This condition is not acne though, and its not eczema, but instead it is believed to be a combination of irritation and a response by the skin to this which results in inflammation, redness, bacterial colonisation and formation of spots in the mask area. It seems to be particularly bad with certain types of masks, or in people who are already predisposed to skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.

What actually causes maskne?

It is thought that the cause of maskne is a combination of a few factors. Firstly, the type of fabric used to make facemasks, with irritation being caused by the fibres of the material causing micro-tears on the skin surface leading to irritation and inflammation. In addition, the increased level of moisture from rebreathing behind the mask compounds this situation. Bacterial colonisation in facemarks could also be an issue, particularly if you don’t change your mask regularly. Following this irritation, there may be increased inflammation in the skin in contact with the mask causing the skin to respond by producing higher levels of sebum to try to repair the damaged barrier, resulting in blocked pores, also compounded by the bacterial imbalance on the skin. 

Like any skin condition, there’s a bit of a vicious cycle that needs to be interrupted to solve it. We need to think of this in a number of ways.

How can you treat maskne?

The first thing to note is that masks really are important at the moment, so they aren’t going anywhere soon. It’s important then that we find masks that suit our skin and are as minimally irritating as possible. Silk has long been used as a skin-friendly material and some companies are starting to produce masks in this and other fabrics, some of which are even impregnated with nano-particle silver, which has good anti-bacterial properties. 

In addition, an important way to combat maskne is to repair the skin’s natural barrier using skincare. This would be a combination of two approaches: firstly reducing the use of anything harsh that is going to further disrupt the barrier of the skin. This would include any harsh stripping AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) such as glycolic acid or strong retinoids such as tretinoin. As well as avoiding anything too occlusive, such as thick barrier creams. Secondly, nourishing the skin with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5 (panthenol or pantothenic acid), ceramides (which are fatty acids that help maintain the normal skin barrier) and the dicarboxylic acid, azelaic acid, which is becoming increasingly popular in skincare for its anti-inflammatory properties. Azelaic acid is also used widely to treat rosacea, which is similar in some ways to maskne.

Thirdly, we need to support the skin from inside. As we all know, good skin health starts from within. Both the gut and also our internal hormonal environment has a huge impact on the skin and can affect our risk of developing maskne in the first place. With generally higher levels of inflammation in the body, the risk of inflammatory-type skin conditions such as maskne are much higher. The same also goes for stress, with higher levels of stress (from any source) causing increased levels of the hormone cortisol and changes in testosterone and oestrogen levels, which then have major effects on the skin. Good diet and sleep are particularly important with this in mind, and minimising your stress levels. Avoiding smoking and alcohol are very important lifestyle factors that go alongside this. Supplements can fit into this also, with certain supplements aimed at controlling cortisol levels such as adaptogens and balancing gut bacteria being ideal for this. 

Are there any other tips to help solve maskne?

The gut-skin axis is an important thing when it comes to the skin, particularly when trying to reduce general inflammation. With gut health in mind, there are certain foods that can help to balance the gut bacteria that should have a beneficial effect on the skin. These include prebiotic foods, which would include things like Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, kefir, cauliflower and kimchi. Taking a good probiotic supplement (i.e. supplements containing the good bacteria themselves) is also important. Foods such as kimchi and kefir also contain good bacteria so could also be considered probiotic. 

Diet-wise, unrefined sugars are also a major cause of general inflammation in the skin, so avoiding sugary foods, drinks and anything processed is also very important! 

Are there any products that help with maskne?

With maskne in mind, we have created our Maskne Duo, which combines our Blue Paint Peel with our Good Night! Night cream. Both of these products are great for decreasing inflammation in the skin and gently assisting in barrier repair, so are ideal to use if you’re noticing some of the effects of maskne. Our Blue Face Peel contains a blend of ceramdes, kaolin clay, vitamin B5, hyaluronic acid and the star of the show, anti-inflammatory azelaic acid. Good Night! is our night moisturiser, that also contains hyaluronic acid, together with anti-inflammatory green tea extract and a very gentle form of vitamin A.