Updated: Sep 3
Prolonged mask-wearing due to Covid-19 has coined a new term, “maskne” to describe the skin difficulties some people are experiencing.
Wearing a face mask traps moisture, sweat, oil and dirt close to our skin, leading to blocked pores, comedones (spots), rashes and acne. It can exacerbate existing skin conditions and the friction from extended mask-wearing can also cause soreness and irritation.
As someone who has personally struggled with sensitive, inflamed skin, I have a particular interest in avoiding the more likely ingredients that are likely to cause irritation (SLS/SLES, parabens, etc). I've had an interest in natural skin care for over 17 years and, as an aromatherapist, I make my own facial oils (and more) and run aromatherapy workshops to support you learning more about making products for yourself at home.
However, when not making my own, my preference for shop-bought cosmetics is Weleda (100% certified natural by NaTRUE) and this is what I use in my therapy practice when not making bespoke aromatherapy blends. As such, where I make over-the-counter recommendations, they are usually for Weleda products, because my personal and professional experience with them spans years. I offer FREE advice on the Weleda range and if you would like to place an order, there is a 30 day money back option if what is recommended doesn't suit you!
So what can we do to try to minimise the effects of mask-wearing?
First, recognise that your skin is going through an additionally challenging time at the moment and needs gentle care. Whether shop-bought or home-made there are various things you can do to support your skin through this time.
Keeping your skin as clean as possible will help prevent pores blocking and the resultant breakouts of spots. Try to avoid wearing make-up under a mask as this will add to the potential for blocking pores, but whether or not you wear make up, cleansing your skin becomes additionally important. Your skin needs extra support and care, so even if you've not really used cleansers in the past, now's the time to consider it.
However, be careful with the cleanser you use. That “squeaky clean” feeling could be doing more damage than good! Cleansers that leave your face with that tight cleaner-than-clean feeling are likely stripping your skin of its natural oils - and the result of this is that your skin will work even harder to replace this oil.
This is a common cycle repeated by people with oily skin, who may over cleanse and then keep doing so when their oily skin goes into panic and produces more oil! They become reliant on the cleanser, believing they continue to need it where their oily skin may benefit from a more gentle, holistic approach.
When to Cleanse?
Ideally you should look to cleanse your skin as soon as you can after wearing a mask for a prolonged period. If you're able to double cleanse, an oil-based cleanser that works to dissolve make-up and the day's general build up of grime, before using a water-based or foaming cleanser (as most professional facials will do) is the more thorough approach. However, a simple one-step cleanser is a good quick go to, but do try to do a more thorough cleanse when you can.
Home-made options include the use of plant-based oils as these can be blended for your particular skin phase and needs (I offer bespoke blending and blending workshops), but this can be as simple as using an almond oil, massaging it into your face and removing with damp cloth soaked in hot or warm water (if you have sensitive skin, including conditions such as rosacea, avoid the use of hot water, instead keep it luke warm and gentle). Using a muslin cloth can double as a gentle exfoliation.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but a hot oil double (or even triple) cleanse with a good plant-based oil followed by a gentle toner can actually benefit oily skin prone to breakouts!
PLEASE NOTE - using oil to cleanse your eye area will damage eyelash extensions!
You may then wish to follow the oil cleanse with a deeper pore cleanse using an over-the counter cleanser such as Weleda's Purifying Gel Cleanser or wipe over with Aknedoran Cleansing lotion ("Aknedoron" means "gift for acne"), bringing the power of plants - antibacterial willow and rosemary; soothing liquorice root, chamomile and calendula and purifying grapefruit and lavender to help gently balance your skin. Where you have a breakout, it may be worth popping on the SOS Spot Treatment to help soothe the area.
A lovely aromatherapy based option to use as a toner after cleansing would be to use one of the beautiful hydrosols (aka hydrolats). Another option would be to use directly after removing PPE as a refreshing spritz/spray.
Chamomile is useful for calming soreness
Spearmint is an excellent choice for a refreshing spray when you feel hot and bothered
Rose is THE choice as part of a blend for a menopausal hot flush (blending with clary sage, neroli and perhaps a smidge spearmint too!)
Clary sage is a good balancer and could be blended with witch hazel for oilier and acne prone skin.
REMEMBER: Skin needs time to adjust to a new skincare routine (a minimum of 28 days) and in the short-term, oily skin, for example, may become oilier as the skin is still in “panic-produce” mode of previous harsher cleanser use. It takes a little while for your skin to catch up to your new approach, so hang on in there, it’ll be worth it!
Try to keep your hydration levels up with plenty of water. In this heat and with the additional demands placed upon your body working in PPE, your skin may be more prone to dehydration (and yes, it is possible to have both oily and dehydrated skin!)
Weleda’s Aknedoron and Willow (Purifying & Refining) ranges are fantastic for oily, breakout prone skin and the Aknedoron cleanser can also be used as a cooling spritz to help refresh the face. A light lotion is probably the best choice for moisturising normal to oily skin in the heat of the summer and under PPE. Weleda-wise I would recommend the afore-mentioned mattifying Refining Lotion or balancing Iris lotion. Where your skin sensitive, Almond Soothing Facial Lotion.
Where skin is more prone to sore dryness, aromatherapy options are plant-based oil blends incorporating almond, jojoba and calendula; and for more mature skins, the addition of rosehip or argan are good choices along with luxury essential oils such as rosa damscena. Weleda’s Skin Food is a popular choice for very dry skin and in quite a few celebrity hand-bags! It’s very heavy duty, so better suited as a face mask or a night cream before you go to bed as it is too heavy for use just before putting on a mask! Skin Food Light is a lighter, more quickly absorbing choice. Also, avoid where skin is irritated and sore. In this case (and if eczema prone, or particular sensitive) look to Weleda’s Calendula or White Mallow (Baby Derma) face creams.
Chafing and irritation
To guard against chafing and irritation, it may help to create a protective layer over the skin before putting your mask on. Aromatherapy-wise I'd look at making a balm with calendula and chamomile to soothe and protect. Commercial product-wise I would look at trying Weleda’s Calendula Weather Protection Cream or Nipple Balm (yes, really - also really rather good for ‘joggers nipple’ and chafing from cycling!)
On removing your mask, look to cleanse and tone, followed by some form of moisturiser. Where there is sore irritation and/or inflammation, I’d recommend trying a nappy cream on those areas - they’re specially formulated for for sore baby’s bums, but can be great for sore and spotty faces too! Again, look for natural brands such as Weleda's Calendula Nappy Change Cream, or the White Mallow Nappy Change Cream (for more eczema-prone skins).
If you have a mix of oily and dry areas, the rule of thumb for layering is: cleanse, tone, serum, lotion/cream. You can look to use a balancing and purifying lotion over the oilier, more prone to blemishes area, then over dryer areas use a cream, or add a layer or facial oil to help seal in the lotion or cream and give those areas some additional support. If that seems a bit much for you, the main ones to concentrate on are the cleanse, tone and lotion/cream. Where there is particular irritation, add in a soothing balm (or nappy cream) on those areas before going to bed.
Something to consider would be giving your face an extra special treat once a week with a facial incorporating a a gentle exfoliation and mask. I'm looking to follow up this post with some further home facial suggestions - do join my mailing list to be updating on further posts - but in the meantime, why not book an appointment for individualised advice and a relaxing facial massage tailored to your skins needs?
Image Credits: Weleda UK & Suomi for product photos (and the facial image).