Maskne: The Great Cover-Up

I think the official term for mask-induced breakout is now “maskne.” I think it is a pretty good name. Cute. To the point. Acne caused by a mask. Or possibly exacerbated by wearing the mask. And even after answering question after question for the past four to five months about this problem, I haven’t come up with anything better. Apparently my pun-abilities have been dampened by the epidemic.

Please note: I am writing this from the perspective that you are already on board with Brooklyn Herborium’s holistic philosophy and have been using the Between You & The Moon products in the way that is recommended by our practitioners in our other resources or during our services. If you are not, you may get some really good information on taking care of your skin while you are wearing masks regularly, but you may need more guidance from our staff if you are using more conventional skincare methods.

My Experience

As an aesthetician, I have been wearing protective face masks pretty regularly during my services since around 2004, when I was chastised by my beloved guru (at the time) for “breathing on her” while I was getting up close to examine her skin. As I did not want to contribute to more garbage on the planet and also did not want the uncomfortable material that disposable masks are made of to rest on my own face, my aunt helped me design and sew an ear-loop face mask out of organic cotton and silk that I could slip on and off easily. 

Although I don’t think wearing masks ever affected my skin poorly when I used them during services, the first month of wearing a mask whenever I had to go out of the house during “COVID quarantine” taught me a lesson. My usual monthly chin bump (almost one inch under the left corner of my lip, usually just a little itchy spot that shows up for a day and then disappears) became a throbbing pimple that took two weeks to fully disappear! Being an expert in analyzing a breakout situation, I was able to discern what factors led to this perfect storm, and what I would need to do to prevent it from happening again.

Your Unique “Perfect Storm”

For most of the people who have contacted me wanting to figure out why this newfound maskne is occurring, it seems to come down to three factors that comingle to create a unique storm for each individual. These factors are irritation, an imbalanced topical ecosystem, and the body using the skin as an organ of elimination.

1. Irritation

Irritation created by the friction of the mask is probably the least contributing factor if you are wearing a mask that fits well, but it certainly could become a problem, particularly if there is metal or rubber on the mask that rubs up against your skin, or if the mask is made of a material that irritates your skin. An interesting thing to note is that a mask made out of a material that is just fine for one person may rub another person  the wrong way.

Many Fabrics to Choose From

For my own skin, I have found that I have done best with a mixture of organic cotton and silk. I have heard from my clients that they are having a similar experience. My face definitely prefers the softness of silk to anything else, and I find that my two silk masks wash and dry very quickly, although silk masks can be hard to find and may be more of an initial investment. There are also studies that suggest that using these two fabrics in the same mask may be extra-protective against certain types of viruses. (There was an article on ScienceDaily that I will link to at the end of this article.)

Makeup Under Your Mask

Another type of irritation may be caused by wearing makeup under your mask. If you are experiencing a higher-than-usual occurrence of breakout and you wear makeup regularly, you may want to look at your makeup usage to determine if it is contributing to the problem.

2. The Ecosystem Under Your Mask

Having a piece of fabric that you are breathing into close to your face for long periods of time can change the bacterial and fungal balance in the area that your mask is covering. Therefore, any stress bumps you may already be experiencing (see “The Elimination Function” below) can become more easily overtaken by “intruders” (like “acne” bacteria) or can become infected (also leading to pus) while you are wearing a mask. Gross. And that’s not even taking into consideration that in that moist environment, particularly if the skin is getting constantly irritated, it is going to take longer than usual to heal.

Two practices make a huge difference:

  1. Change your mask often. Don’t reuse disposable masks. Though it may be easier on the environment to get as much use as you can out of each mask, disposable masks are not intended to be worn all day or for multiple days. And please, please, please throw away your disposable mask in a proper garbage receptacle when you are finished with it.
  2. Clean reusable masks well. I have a little bag that allows me to keep fresh masks in the front and put used/dirty masks in a back pouch. I think that this one was originally meant for baby stuff, so it is waterproof and has enough space for me to stick a Clean & Green On The Go in there too, but there are many types of pouches or makeup bags that would work, and you may not need to buy something new just for this purpose.

Rehabilitating a Topical Ecosystem Gone Wrong 

When the integrity of the skin is compromised and/or malicious microbes have proliferated under your face’s new “rainforest canopy,” you may need a little help to transition back to the balanced, thriving skin you once knew (or, if you are new to our methods, the balanced, thriving skin you have been in search of).

The Solution is a unique, high-potency Mineral Mist that combines the power of plants (immortelle, also known as Helichrysum, to be exact) with our usual minerals, as well as a blast of colloidal silver. (See what I did there? A chemistry pun: colloidal/”solution.” Am I losing my touch?) Use it after taking off your mask, and at night before bed. You can also replace your usual Mineral Mist with this one in the morning, possibly mixed into your moisturizer or Nourish & Replenish Oil, although that is not necessary. (If you are not getting pus on the surface of your skin, you probably don’t need this product in particular, and you may find that your usual Mineral Mist is sufficient once you have flushed your skin with water.)

The Integrity Biome Mask is a friend of the microbiome and your trusty companion to help you through any changes in your surrounding environment that may lead to an imbalanced topical ecosystem. It’s perfect for summer weather, intermittent travel, existential breakdowns, or long periods of lockdown. (You do not need to be experiencing skin issues to benefit from regular use of the Integrity Biome Mask.)

3. The Elimination Function

The skin is an organ of elimination. Sweating is just one of the ways that the body eliminates metabolic waste on a daily basis. When the body is overwhelmed with this job, the body is irritated by its own secretions, or if the toxins aren’t able to properly move on out onto the skin on a regular basis, we experience what we at Brooklyn Herborium call “stress bumps,” which become pimples when bacteria are introduced.

So when you remember that there is a really good chance that your stress levels are increasing during this time, or that your eating habits and schedule may have changed, you might notice how this can affect your hormone production, as well as how your body is eliminating those hormones. Instead of switching to acne medications or trying to dry out or suppress the stress bumps that may be finding their way to the surface, we suggest working with the body to give it what it needs to function more optimally so that it can take care of these issues on its own.

The Stress Bump Tea that we make can help relieve the skin of some of its elimination duties and tends to be far more effective for stopping certain types of breakout than changing the topical skin regimen.

Additionally, we are still offering remote Supportive Skincare Consultations and Functional Self-Care Consultations via Zoom, as well as a limited number of in-person consultations at each of our locations. Sometimes it takes one of our caring professionals to take a close look at what you are doing and help you sort yourself out!

My Recommendations

Do these things every time you wear a mask:

  • When you get home, wash your hands with soap and water, and then take off your mask and wash your mask with soap and water. (I use our Clean & Green Wash Your Hands for both of these tasks.)
  • Take some water into your clean hands and flush your skin with water the same way you would do facial bathing in the morning. 
  • If you choose to take off your makeup at this time, oil cleanse with No Evil, or use a milk/cream cleanser like LOMAH or Vita-C Nightly Cleanser at this time, and do not do it again before bed.
  • If you have experienced any irritation (physically or emotionally), it may be helpful to pump a few pumps of Mineral Mist onto your skin. Although any Mineral Mist will do, go with the one that smells best to you. It is not recommended that you moisturize at this time. 

A helpful suggestion (which may also be pleasant):

My masks have an inner pocket that can accommodate an extra filter, so I wrap fresh or dried herbs (lemon verbena, rosemary, thyme, lavender, rose petals, etc.) in a tiny piece of cloth and tuck it into my mask. It seems to help not only with my nerves but with stopping the area around my mouth and nose from feeling too moist when I am wearing my mask for a while.

Your Overall Well-Being

Sometimes you can be “doing everything right” and still find yourself having trouble with wearing a mask or being able to go out into the world. This is one of the places where homeopathy shines — the things that conventional medicine and traditional herbalism don’t have an answer for. If you feel like it is difficult to breathe in your mask, Carbo vegetabilis may set you at ease. Panicked or fearful? Perhaps you will feel better with one dose of Aconite. Sad or feeling grief that you are “missing out” on your old life? Ignatia.

Return to the Spiral Path

Tensions run high when the future seems so uncertain and trying to make our needs known from behind a sheath of fabric can get frustrating. Above all, it is important to be kind to ourselves and to each other, especially in the more difficult moments. If you get a little more breakout than usual, try to avoid treating your skin like it is suddenly betraying you and starting to think that you need to control it. Bring your hand back to your heart and remind yourself of nourishment and the “Spiral Path”:

I am ebbing and flowing along the spiral, expanding and contracting as necessary. When I nourish my body, mind, and spirit, giving each part of me enough of what it needs when it needs it and continue to pull my whole being back into alignment whenever possible, I light the way for holiness and my own vibrant beauty that cannot be covered by any mask.

Links to scientific assessments of silk and cotton face masks:
ScienceDaily
University of Chicago 

SHOP

100% Silk Masks
Integrity Biome Revitalizing Herbal Mask
Clean & Green Hand Soap
The Solution for Damaged Skin

By Emma Graves

Emma, a certified herbalist and highly skilled aesthetician, has been working in natural skin care since 1998. She originally developed the Between You & the Moon product line to serve her clients in finding a method of natural, holistic skin care that provided tangible results. A 4+ generation holistic practitioner, Emma chronicled her love of skin care and holistic methods in her early blog “The Pimple Whisperer,” some of which is still available on this website.

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