How to Fight “Maskne,” Plus More FAQs Your Derms Are Answering Right Now

woman wearing face mask during coronavirus pandemic

On an average day, board-certified dermatologists answer myriad very specific questions. After all, patients see them for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from injectables consultations and laser appointments, to skin cancer and melasma (and everything in between).

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, dermatologists are still answering queries about reducing wrinkles and removing dark spots, et al. — but now they’re also fielding questions related to COVID-19 and skincare. For example, how can patients safely treat face-covering-induced acne (also known as “maskne”)? How will staying inside more frequently affect a skincare regimen? These and other similar topics have come to the forefront of patients’ minds in recent months — ours included. 

To get the scoop on these new concerns and others cropping up in this unprecedented time, we asked two board-certified dermatologists to weigh in. Here’s what Sapna Palep, MD, of Spring Street Dermatology℠ in New York City, and Devika Icecreamwala, MD, in Berkeley, Calif., had to say about the FAQs they’ve received, how to combat these new issues, and how to prevent problems from showing up in the first place.

Maskne Prevention

The question “How do I prevent acne caused by wearing masks (maskne)?” didn’t exist prior to 2020 — at least on a global scale. While Dr. Icecreamwala says there isn’t a formal protocol to prevent maskne, she highly recommends that people wash their masks on a regular basis. Ideally, this means washing your mask after each use. 

Treating Mask-Related Skin Issues

Acne isn’t the only problem starting beneath face-coverings. Many questions about “maskne” are centered around a common culprit: Peri-oral dermatitis, an inflamed rash around the mouth that can have a bumpy, red and/or scaly appearance. “Peri-oral [dermatitis] is a very, very stubborn condition,” she warns. To solve this dilemma, she typically prescribes a low dose of oral antibiotics. However, if you’re concerned with this particular challenge, you should talk to your provider. They can deliver an accurate diagnosis and help guide you through your own treatment options. 

What (Skincare) to Wear

With consideration for the change in season (from winter to spring to summer), Dr. Palep strongly recommends switching to new skincare regimens. When patients ask her what specific toners, serums, and lotions they should and should not be applying, Dr. Palep doesn’t have one simple answer. “I go through all their skincare products and put them on a totally new routine,” she explains.

You can always go to your own dermatologist to ask them to assess your individual routine. However, as a general rule (and something you can do at home without an appointment), Dr. Palep recommends completely eliminating heavy serums or oils and replacing them with a water-based, oil-free moisturizer like EltaMD® Barrier Renewal Complex ($52)  or Neutrogena® Hydro Boost Water Gel ($22). “And, if you do not already have one, add a sunscreen that is not heavy — or a light sun protective powder like the one from Colorscience®,” she adds. (More SPF tips later!)

Starting Retinol

Patients will often start new retinol regimens in colder, darker months, as the vitamin A derivative can cause an increased sensitivity to sun exposure. However, because many people are staying inside more than usual, they’re inquiring about this topical during the sunniest season. (This makes it easy to understand why the question “Should I begin using a retinol?” is usually unlikely this time of year but ironically popular these days.) 

Editor's Note

Retinol shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.

Dr. Icecreamwala is all for starting retinol now. “I advocate that this is the best time to be able to do it,” she says. “This is the one weird summer where people are not outside all the time and not hanging out on the beach.” Plus, it’s also a good time to begin treatment if you’d previously been concerned about a skin purging period. As Dr. Icecreamwala points out, now is a good time to purge all the bad stuff from your skin because you’re seeing fewer people. 

New Light Forms

Another bright query is concerning LED light and blue light. “Everybody's on their computer these days, on Zoom(TM) meetings, and they're trying to understand how that affects the skin,” says Dr. Icecreamwala. While LEDs are actually beneficial to skin (there are studies that show energy from these light-emitting diodes can actually stimulate collagen production!), blue light emitted from your devices is damaging, as are the sun’s rays. 

To combat these harmful light forms, Dr. Icecreamwala recommends wearing sunscreen — yes, even indoors. She suggests applying it every morning and reapplying it every two hours. Her favorite is EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 ($36), but the key to finding an SPF that fights both the sun and your devices is to seek out a mineral-based product that contains antioxidants. Antioxidants help deter skin-damaging free radicals, which are emitted by UVA/UVB rays and blue light.

Discover more skincare tips:

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