So it turns out face masks give you spots, but this is how you can prevent it

Who knew my hot breath localised in one contained area made my skin worse, huh?

When I travelled for four hours this weekend on a cross country train I noticed how uncomfortable wearing a mask for a long period of time could be. Yes, it’s entirely necessary and I would never forego it, but man did my breath stink and my upper lip was constantly lined with a thin layer of sweat. For four hours I was forced to endure an entirely unvaried smellscape of my grim mask breath, breathing in, breathing out, each exhale mainlined into my nostrils because there is truly no escape when you’re wearing a mask.

I realised the next day that as well as the discomfort, this sweaty breath trap was not only uncomfortable but also terrible for my skin. I woke up with SIX (six!!!) spots localised to the area that the mask covered, and along the line where the edges of the mask sat, making me question “do face masks cause acne?”. As someone who cares very, very deeply about her skincare routine thanks to suffering from acne during my teens, the fact that wearing a mask completely undoes all my hard work and well spent £££ lathering facial oils and spot treatments onto my face UPSETS ME greatly.

More importantly, there is no way around it. I cannot and will not travel sans mask – and nor should anyone else. So now we’re confined to a masked living, how can we minimise the damage to our precious skin for the times when our faces are actually allowed to be on display?

Do face masks cause acne?

To answer the all important “do face masks cause acne?” question, we consulted some expert dermatologists (or as I like to call them, skin aficionados). Dr Anjali Mahto of the British Association of Dermatologists explained that the mask acne is caused by the accumulation of sweat underneath the mask, as well as increase friction and pressure. “This can cause damage to the skin” Dr Anjali Mahto told The Tab, “for some people, this may include the worsening of acne.”

“Acne can be driven by the hot, humid microclimate created in facial areas covered by the mask as sweat becomes trapped on the skin. The physical pressure of the mask on the skin can also cause blockages of the oil producing ducts of the skin, leading to the development of acne.”

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Then how can we avoid or lessen the mask induced acne?

To start with, the obvious answer: clean your face once you remove the mask. “Cleansing the skin thoroughly twice a day, and moisturising afterwards, may help in reducing the risk of acne forming,” Dr Mahto said.

Additionally, forgoing makeup can help you out: “When wearing a face mask, particularly for a long period, it’s best to avoid wearing heavy make-up or foundation underneath the mask as this may lead to blockages in the skin which cause acne.” This means I finally get to live out my dream of applying only half a face of makeup and hiding my bare spotty skin behind the mask. Ultimate deception. I love it.

Dr Ross Perry, a dermatologist as Cosmedics UK, has suggested that stress may also be contributing towards this increased acne. He told The Tab: “Potentially the stress around the whole [pandemic] situation could be contributing.

“If the skin gets sweatier and as a result increases the bacteria colonisation [this could cause] more acne. Advice is to wash face 2-3 times a day as this may help reduce it if wearing a face mask for long periods of time.”

So there you have it. You sweaty face mask and its friction is to blame for that breakout, but it’s also potentially saving your and others’ lives – so keep the face covering on, sans makeup, and wash your face before and after wearing it. And if this article helps prevent just one spot, I’ll die happy.

Featured image (before edits) by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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