Pandemic-fuelled mask-wearing has us hiding our faces, but here’s why we still need skincare
It has been a year since we were thrown into the singular chaos of a global pandemic, with one of the first things advised to the public was to keep our masks on at all times. And now, things that once we thought as “the new normal” has become routine—just “normal”—as we adapt to the thought that this will be actually be a long, ever-evolving slog. For the meantime, in the name of public health and general decency, we pick up our masks on the way out of the door just as automatically as we grab our keys and wear them throughout our day outside the house.
The fact that most of us are donning this protective gear has led a change in skincare habits, as evident in the decreased demand in skincare and makeup in general. When before we were dutifully applying our toners, serums, and moisturisers in order to look decent before facing the world, these days we go about with only a fraction of the face visible, so why keep up with multi-step routine? Not to mention that some of us are in a fraught state of mind, given the year’s stressors, and can do very well without the added worry of pursuing elaborate skincare. Understandably, some of us eased off beauty products and got comfortable again with being plain-faced under our masks.
So why bother going back?
The mask belongs to our protective arsenal in these crucial times, but its constant use has led to some individuals developing “maskne,” an acne flare-up in areas that are under a mask or is in contact with it. The maskne can manifest as heat rashes (milia), dermatitis, acne pustules, facial eczema, or rosacea, for those already predisposed to the condition. It commonly appears on the jaw, cheeks, chin, nose, and even on the ears where the straps rub against the skin.
Mask-wearing is seen to contribute to these skin issues because of the following causes:
- Friction – The constant irritation of the mask fabric rubbing against the face can trigger inflammatory responses on the skin. This may also be exacerbated by pressure (i.e. how tight a mask is worn) and the type of fiber in the mask, with artificial components (i.e. polyester) appearing to cause more reactions.
- Occlusion – The enclosed space between your nose, mouth, and the mask is often warm, damp and can trap bacteria, dead skin cells, and sweat, causing a proliferation of tiny white bumps called milia, as well as rashes and localised redness.
Developing maskne is problematic enough of its own, but it also discourages proper mask usage from patients who are alarmed by their skin’s reaction.
A new routine
Inasmuch as it’s comfortable leaving our faces be, skincare goes further than appearances. It is meant to address problematic conditions, such as maskne, if and when they develop, and prevent damage from occurring.
The way to go: a simple, gentle daily routine with an emphasis on cleansing and tested anti-inflammatory ingredients. It may not be as exciting as the latest from the beauty industry trends (sorry, no watermelons or pineapples or dramatic peels here!). But these no-nonsense products will soothe and repair skin and help it grow more resilient against further irritation.
Step 1 – Cleansing
A gentle cleanse before you go out and as you return to your home is imperative when wearing a mask. This simple step minimises the presence of bacteria that will exacerbate maskne symptoms, and remove trapped dead skin, oils, and salt that accumulate underneath the mask.
But if you’re thinking about going all the way and strip the skin of all grease and debris, going too harsh will also make problems worse as it can dry out and compromise the skin barrier, a defensive layer of skin cells and lipids. A mild cleanser should do just the right amount of debris removal while preserving the skin’s own line of defense, like Now Foods Solutions Clarify & Illuminate Cleanser and Now Foods Solutions Gel Cleanser, Vitamin C & Manuka Honey. This also contains skin calming ingredients like aloe, allantoin, and manuka honey to help soothe flare-ups.
Fans of toners in their skincare should choose carefully, but should not be overly perfumed or contain exfoliating acids (e.g. AHAs & BHAs). Mildness is the name of the game, so something like Now Foods, Solutions, Purifying Toner, Vitamin C & Acai Berry can be as an additional cleansing step while still packing considerable hydration from glycerin, Vitamin E, and olive oil.
Bonus tip: Carry alcohol- and fragrance-free facial wipes so you can wipe off moisture and sweat under the mask midday. Remember to clean your hands before and after touching your face too!
Step 2 – Moisturising
Soon after you cleanse, follow this up with a moisturiser. It isn’t just for the glow: the moisturiser reduces dryness which makes the skin prone to getting irritated and helps strengthen a skin-barrier damaged by mask-chafing. A hydrated barrier also holds up better against environmental factors and pathogens.
What you should be looking for in a moisturiser should be a lightweight texture, a good occlusive that locks in hydration, and an anti-inflammatory ingredient that can reduce acne formation. A light gel formulated for acne-prone skin, like Now Foods Solutions Blemish Clear Moisturizer, can remove the guesswork in picking a moisturiser for this step. Additionally, check the ingredients list for ceramides, dimethicone, and hyaluronic acid, as in Now Foods, Solutions, Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer, AM for daytime use and Now Foods, Solutions, Hyaluronic Acid Creme, PM Moisture Renew Formula for the evening, as these are great hydrators that are well-tolerated by most skin types.
Those who want more oomph in their products but feel limited by skin irritation can look to niacinamide, Vitamin E, and gentler forms of Vitamin C (non-ascorbic acid types) for an added luminance. As antioxidants, they serve to protect the skin from cellular damage and darkening (photoaging). Formulations like Now Foods, Solutions, Moisturizer, Vitamin C & Sea Buckthorn and Now Foods, E-Oil, 23,000 IU sandwich the skin vitamins in plenty of oils so it is absorbed well and are non-irritating to the skin.
Bonus tip: A facial mist can deliver moisture to your skin hands free while you’re outdoors. After a quick cleanse with a facial wipe, quickly spray Now Foods Solutions Hyaluronic Acid Hydration Facial Mist all over the face, let it air dry, before putting your mask back on.
Step 3 -Treatment
Depending on the severity and symptoms of irritation, the addition of a specific step can address particular concerns, especially if angry cysts, pustules, heavy redness or rashes are present. A medicated approach can only be appropriately adopted upon consulting with a dermatologist. Although, for milder cases of irritation and a smattering of acne, one can still opt for other acne remedies. A spot treatment, like Now Foods Solutions Blemish Clear Spot Treatment with blemish-busting tea tree oil, can be applied directly on problematic areas, as needed. However, skin that is red and itchy calls for NOW Foods Aloe Vera Soothing Gel to bring immediate relief on these painful areas.
Bonus tip: A DIY Manuka Honey mask can help calm the skin down, as it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It also softens the skin and accelerates wound healing. Use a certified genuine product, such as Now Foods, Real Food, Manuka Honey, to ensure product purity. For a night-time mask, massage a small amount over the skin, let it sink in for a few minutes, before rinsing off and patting the face dry.
Underneath the mask
While we choose to protect ourselves with our masks, we may overlook the skin’s needs as it is no longer prominently exposed. However, underneath that layer of cloth, it is still a vulnerable organ, one that is exposed to damage on how we treat it daily, and it is still pretty open to factors like weather, temperature, sunlight, and pollutants. The way we value our skin shouldn’t be just about its appearance—or whether or not someone else other than ourselves sees it—but regard it with care just like you would with other parts of the body.
We are likely far from the end of our mask-wearing days, and it’s just as well that we see this change in skincare as another adaptation.