The plight of the sebaceous teen: Preventing ‘maskne’ during COVID

Art by Abby Murphy

Matthew Chen

Over time, masks and face coverings become cesspools of dirt and bacteria which can lead to “maskne” (mask acne) if not properly treated. Quarantine is hard enough without a face full of painful pimples; thankfully, there are simple ways to help prevent this scourge. 

It is important to differentiate the two types of pimples: blackheads and whiteheads. Both result from a buildup of bacteria and oil, called sebum, in a pore. According to Bioré, a skincare and beauty company, the most important difference between the two is whiteheads often cluster on the cheeks and chin while blackheads form on the nose. Most masks hug the cheeks, chin and nose, making breakouts in these areas especially common. Now, let’s talk about prevention. 

First, remember that disposable masks should only be worn once. Many people reuse disposable masks one too many times, leading to an accumulation of bacteria from coughs or sneezes and dirt from makeup or sweat. This buildup of bacteria and dirt creates a fertile breeding ground for whiteheads and blackheads. 

More eco-friendly, cloth masks may pose a greater threat to the face. Some use the mask without cleaning it frequently, which is detrimental. Although cloth masks are reusable and sustainable, they should be washed after every use. Inspect each mask for its washing instructions, but using hot water and soap to scrub the cloth material is a reliable way to combat dirt and bacteria. 

Another way to reduce the spread of bacteria and dirt is to practice facial cleansing in the morning and at night. On her blog, board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Lela Lankerani, explains the importance of proper skin cleansing. It can decrease the chances of breakouts by removing dirt and sebum from the face. A clean face lessens the rate at which dirt and bacteria accrue on a mask, leading to healthier skin.  

There are multiple techniques to prevent maskne, and at the core of each of them is keeping your mask and face clean. 

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