Face Masks and Skin Problems
Now that wearing a face mask in public is mandatory in South Africa, we thought we would look at skin problems that arise from wearing a mask and how to avoid them.
Masks creates a moist, warm environment for your skin, since your exhaled air is being trapped. So it will also trap a build-up of sweat and sebum on the skin under the mask, leading to inflammation, rashes, and even acne breakouts. There is so much advice out there about this topic right now – some advise using strong ingredients like AHA/Glycolic Acid, while some advise against it. I think the focus should be hydration, with a small amount of exfoliation. I don’t want this to be a plug for OptoDerm products, but we have been saying for a while now that your skin barrier is the most important aspect of your skin. It is what shields us from airborne bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. The pH of the acid mantle is low for a reason – to protect us. So, here are some issues to consider:
Wash your face before & after wearing a face mask
Since wearing a mask traps oil and sebum, make sure to clean your face before wearing a mask and after you remove it, when you arrive home. Ideally you need to be using a cleanser that respects your skin barrier and not one that destroys it. Many foaming cleansers impair the skin barrier and are high pH. Our micellar cleansers respect the skin barrier, are low pH, and provide biomimetic factors that replenish and help optimise your skins NMF (Natural Moisturising Factors). For those with oilier skins, opt for products with salicylic acid, because they work to remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin, preventing potential flareups and clogged pores. We have a product called Oil Control that contains salicylic acid and also the key antibacterial and antiviral components, copper and zinc. This would be used together with one of our micellar cleansers and is safe to use AM and PM.
Protect Your Skin Barrier
Yes, face masks trap oil and sebum but skin hydration and skin oil production are two separate issues. It’s important to apply a good, light moisturizer, especially when you’re wearing a face mask, even if your skin tends to be oily and acne-prone. You must protect your skin barrier. A face mask can cause friction on your face too, further impairing the skin barrier. And a damaged skin barrier causes inflammation and makes you more sensitive to pathogens.
All OptoDerm creams are light (although Rejuvenate is somewhat heavier) and they all contain a dual lipid-bilayer technology that responds to environmental changes. This technology is ideal to use under a mask, where conditions may go from cold and dry, to warm and humid, quite quickly. The lipid bilayer opens and closes according to environmental changes – either allowing heat and moisture to escape, or keeping it locked in to prevent TEWL (Trans-epidermal Water Loss). This technology has been clinically tested at MEDUNSA. The main benefit is that is helps to re-build and repair a compromised skin barrier.
Our Balance cream is a great affordable active cream that contains many skin beneficial actives like niacinamide, NAG, inositol, caffeine, zinc, urea, glycine etc, and most of the skins NMF components too (sodium lactate, PCA, ribose etc). The Phospholipids in our creams contain relatively high amounts of linoleic acid, which plays an important role in the skins own synthesis of Ceramide 1, a lipid that is important for intact barrier function.
The niacinamide in Balance has an occlusive effect, without being greasy. A published study found that niacinamide was more effective than petrolatum (eg Vaseline – a common occlusive ingredient in moisturisers) in reducing water loss from the skin and in increasing its moisture levels. Niacinamide is also non-comedogenic (pore clogging), is a potent anti-aging ingredient in its own right and helps to prevent excess sebum production, in acne-prone skins. Much more info on our website here.
If your skin is really dry, consider adding a few drops of our affordable Hydrating Serum into your cream, especially at night. This contains squalane and vitamin F. Squalane is a non-polar, fully saturated, and very stable compound, resistant to oxidation and UV radiation. It is an exceptional moisturiser, preventing moisture loss and imparting suppleness and flexibility to your skin. Although the body produces its own version of squalane (known as squalene), the amount made and retained in the skin decreases over time. It peaks in our teens and then starts to decline in our 20’s, leaving skin rough, dry and vulnerable. The Vitamin F we use in Hydrating Serum comprises linoleic acid (C18:2), the main fatty acid, ~60% of the total, linolenic acid (C18:3) representing ~10% and the balance, arachidonic acid (C20:4). A deficiency in linoleic acid is linked to many skin problems – see our blog here for more details.
And the main action of CBD relates to up-regulating genes associated with barrier function. I wrote a blog about this here.
Skip Makeup Under Your Mask
It might seem obvious, but if you’re used to wearing makeup on your entire face, it’s time to shift your application to only what’s above eye level. Any potentially irritating or pore-clogging ingredients should be avoided under the mask-covered skin. Minimise makeup — particularly foundations and concealer with heavy formulations, because the increased humidity under the mask could affect your skin’s sebum production and potentially lead to an increase in clogged pores and breakouts.
Treat Your Acne & Breakouts GENTLY
Wearing face masks causes inflammation and rashes, so focusing on drying your acne can make the other skin problems worse. I highly recommend using products that can both hydrate and exfoliate. Using our Glycolic Toner, or our Bio-Enzyme Gel provides gentle and effective exfoliation and hydration. These can be used safely with our micellars and Oil Control.
Opt For A Breathable Cotton Face Cover
We should be wearing cloth face coverings, not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, as those are critical supplies that must be reserved for frontline healthcare workers. There are now a lot of washable cloth face masks in the market, but make sure to opt for the most comfortable. Cotton is a breathable fabric and will be relatively non-irritating to the skin. You can put a filter pad inside it, or a coffee filter between the fabric for added protection.