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Mask Acne | When one pandemic leads to another

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COVID-19 brought with it many frustrations and challenges. When the hard lockdown was finally lifted and we were able to venture into the world again many people encountered a new enemy: mask acne. People who thought they conquered this monster years ago, now found themselves battling like in their teenage-years again. But strangely, those few who were lucky enough to skip that dreaded phase of puberty now faced the same beast. So what is causing this dilemma? Are we being punished for behaving like our younger selves, living in our pyjamas on the couch while gulping down junk food?

The good news is, probably not. While the unhealthy lifestyle that many adopted while isolated from society isn’t helping, the main culprit is a condition called acne mechanica. Acne is caused by the pores on the skin getting blocked by oil and other debris. This is caused by a combination of factors:

  • excessive oil production
  • abnormal shedding of skin cells
  • inflammation
  • acne-causing bacteria, called acnes
  • hormonal changes

Acne mechanica is caused when the skin is in contact with fabric or another barrier for extended periods of time. It traps heat and debris, causing the pores to clog more easily. The constant friction irritates the skin, causing inflammation that leads to pimples and cysts. In the past sport’s equipment was often to blame, but now mandatory mask-wearing has made it a common phenomenon.

Unfortunately, we can’t just dispose of this little life-saving device. It will remain a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. Luckily there are many options to manage the situation:

Keep your mask clean: It is easy to throw your mask in the car and reuse it every day, but this does not do your skin any favours. Using a clean mask every day is the best way to limit the amount of debris that your skin is exposed to.

Follow a good skincare routine: Since excessive debris on the skin is the main cause of acne mechanica, the first thing to do is to cleanse your face every morning and evening. The right products will remove impurities, reduce inflammation and will normalise the skin’s oil production. Although excessive oil contributes to acne, it doesn’t mean that dry skin is immune against developing acne. Stripping the skin of all its natural oils damages the skin’s protective barrier and makes it more prone to inflammation. It may also stimulate the skin to produce more oil. A good moisturiser should restore the skin barrier without adding more oil.

Don’t over-exfoliate: It may sound like exfoliating is the answer to clearer skin, but it may make matters worse. It also causes irritation and inflammation, and may remove too much of the skin’s natural oils. Using a gentle cleanser and toner twice a day is sufficient.

Chemical peels: This is a procedure that removes dead skin cells and other impurities that may clog the pores. It also causes controlled inflammation that stimulates the skin to regenerate, leaving you with healthier, more radiant skin. This can be performed by aesthetic doctors and aestheticians.

Prescription skin products: Most treatments take several weeks to be effective. This is a frustrating process. An aesthetic doctor can prescribe products with higher concentrations of the active ingredients like salicylic acid and lactic acid that is usually found in skincare products. This is a great way to kick-start your journey to a clearer complexion.

Medication: It is often necessary to use topical or oral medication together with skincare products to manage acne. These medications are aimed at reducing inflammation, controlling the colonisation of acne-causing bacteria and reducing oil-production. In some cases a combination of treatments are utilised to give the best effect. Antibiotics can be used to decrease bacteria on the skin. In female patients oral contraceptives can also be beneficial.

If you noticed a deterioration in your complexion since wearing a mask, or if you have acne in general, go and see your doctor for assistance. There are options available to suit every lifestyle and budget. Your mask should be for protection, not to cover-up your acne.