I’m not even going to get into the supposed politics of wearing a mask. At this point, they are a way of life around the world and are proven to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect not only for yourself but for those around you and those you love.
But wearing a mask does pose a unique problem, so much so that we’ve made up our own word for it: maskne, aka acne brought on by wearing a mask. For essential workers like nurses, doctors, servers, store clerks, cashiers, grocery stockers, and more, wearing a mask all day is a requirement of the job, and can definitely increase the likelihood of developing maskne.
Maskne is caused by a host of things, but mainly the humidity, sweat, and bacteria that gets trapped in between your face and the mask. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, said the following: “Face coverings create a humid environment that traps sweat, oil, and bacteria on the skin, and they’re likely what’s causing acne in the form of whiteheads, red bumps, and pustules in the areas of skin covered by the mask.” Since we can’t avoid wearing masks, we have to work with what options we have.
Maskne is caused by a host of things, but mainly the humidity, sweat, and bacteria that gets trapped in between your face and the mask.
With all the different types of face masks available now, it’s tough to decide which one is right for you and which one can help decrease the likelihood of developing maskne. Luckily for you, I’ve done the research and can help guide you to a maskne-free life!
Cotton Face Masks
Cotton face masks are the most inexpensive, widely used type of mask out there now. However, cotton masks can trap a ton of bacteria and sweat in them and aren’t the best at staying dry, so it’s imperative that you wash them daily, preferably after each wear. I have a set of five from Old Navy that I keep in rotation and wash at the end of the week, so it makes it really easy to keep track of when I need to wash them.
It also helps to buy a special, fragrance-free laundry detergent just for your masks, especially if you have sensitive skin or are sensitive to fragrances.
I use my cotton masks when I’m running quick errands, or if I’m going through a drive-thru at Starbucks or getting a pickup order from Target, so I’m not wearing it all day, trapping all the nasty bacteria and stuff.
Neoprene Face Masks
If I personally had to choose my favorite mask material, I’d go with neoprene. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and doesn’t have the heavy feeling that some cotton masks have. Neoprene also keeps sweat and bacteria away from your face and dries incredibly quickly, so you don’t have that soggy mask thing happening at the end of the day like with cotton masks.
I prefer to use neoprene masks when I know I’m going to be outdoors or running errands for a long time, or if I’m working out outdoors and want something more breathable than a cotton mask. They’re also much easier to wash and dry, IMO.
Some neoprene masks, like the ones from hmnkind, are antibacterial and offer UV protection, so they are perfect for outdoor hangouts and picnic dates.
Silk Face Masks
I personally haven’t tried any masks made from silk, but they are a luxe, high-quality mask material that is super soft and can effectively filter out harmful airborne particles. Silk is also a great option if you have sensitive skin, as it can be less irritating than cotton or paper masks. Silk is cooler than cotton, doesn’t get as wet as cotton, absorbs less sweat and dries quicker than cotton, and is naturally hypoallergenic. Masks made from pure, 100% silk also won’t clog your pores, so if you’re acne-prone or have oily skin, silk masks might be the best option for you!
My personal everyday preference for face masks are the disposable paper masks. They are more breathable than cotton and neoprene masks (in my opinion), and since you are supposed to only use them once and throw them away, you don’t have to worry about reintroducing bacteria and sweat on your face. However, using tons of paper masks all day is not that great for the environment—I can’t even tell you how many paper masks I see strewn about in parks, along the trails, or in parking lots.
I wear paper masks (specifically my KN95s) when I’m going to the doctor’s office (my quarantine time has been equally split between picking up book orders curbside at Barnes & Noble, going to Costco for groceries, and going to the doctor for my fibroid situation), or if I think I’m going to be in a more crowded situation where I need the extra protection the KN95 provides.
No matter what mask material you choose, make sure to wash and dry them after each use (or throw them away), and make sure they’re properly fitted so they aren’t rubbing aggressively against your face. After a long day of wearing a mask, make sure to wash your face thoroughly and apply any acne medication or products as needed.