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From the emergence of COVID-19 to the subsequent implementation of iron-fisted lockdown regulations, 2020 has certainly been a year fraught with surprises. Coronavirus aside, there is a new pandemic that has been silently taking the world by storm behind the masks each and every one of us are made to wear.
‘Maskne’ – a new term for facemask-related acne – has become a serious issue for many participants in the global workforce collective. In an attempt to cope with the rising numbers of this new pandemic, healthcare professionals, dermatologists and beauty hackers alike have been trying to wrap their heads around how to integrate masks into a person’s daily skincare routine.
Thankfully through revisiting acne in the context of wearing a facemask, it becomes increasingly clear how to adapt to the times and reclaim our natural beauty!
Acne, facemasks and more are discussed below, as well as 8 things you can do to help avoid contracting the ‘Maskne.’
Causes of Acne
First off, what is acne?
Acne is characterized by irritation or inflammation of the sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands) in the pores of the skin.
There are numerous factors that can trigger sebaceous gland irritation and consequently give rise to acne.
The following are thought to be the main causes of acne (either alone or in combination):
- Excessive sebum (oil). Either externally applied or internally generated oil excess can cause acne. The oil traps dirt and dead skin bits which creates irritation. Sebum is also the perfect growth medium for acne-causing bacteria, like acne vulgaris.
- Heightened testosterone levels. Testosterone is known to stimulate sebum production and excess can lead to too much. This is why acne is commonly worse in adolescent boys and women with hormonal imbalances. Excess cholesterol may also contribute to increased androgen production as all sex hormones are made from cholesterol.
- External Endocrine disruption. Even though testosterone is considered the main offender, anything known to disrupt hormones can contribute indirectly to acne, as all the hormones are involved in regulating one another. Plastic compounds, such as phthalates and PCB’s, are prime examples of endocrine disrupting compounds that have indirect effects on our ability to regulate testosterone. In some cases, this may contribute toward excess sebum production in the skin.
- Natural hormonal flux. Stress, puberty, menstruation and other similar physiological pertubations can all contribute toward acne through affecting the hormones.
- The wrong bacteria. Unbeknown to most, the skin is a thriving cesspool of friendly microbial life which helps to deter potential threats from entering the body. When the fine ratio of these bacteria becomes toppled with pathogenic varieties, acne may result.
- Too much abrasion. The skin barrier’s thinnest, outermost layer consists entirely of sebum and is known as the acid mantle. Constantly breaking this layer through excessive abrasion can cause additional irritation and often results in excessive sebum production as the oil glands tend to over-compensate. Abrasion can be due to friction, rubbing or using harsh chemical cleaning agents on the skin that cut grease a little too well.
- Difficulty expelling toxins. The skin is the biggest organ we have and it’s prime function is excretion. When the skin is not expelling waste properly, it may accumulate in the form of acne or it may become food for acne-causing organisms. Dehydration, a lack of consistent exercise, malnutrition, sleep deprivation, constipation and several other factors can contribute to inefficient skin function in this regard.
Does My Facemask Make My Acne Worse?
Considering all the factors that are known to cause acne, a facemask can be seen as an imminent disaster to those who aspire to maintain a flawless complexion.
To sum it up, a facemask is capable of worsening acne in the following ways:
- Constant rubbing and friction.
- Spreading of sebum, skin debris, dust, etc. to unaffected areas.
- Concentrating waste products from the air we expend, our skin and sweat.
- Potential for skin cell endocrine disruption due to plastic compounds present in synthetic textiles.
- Lower oxygen availability and less cellular energy production resulting in slower overall skin function.
- Less available energy can also contribute to craving high glycemic load foods that generate quick bursts of energy (often accompanied by dramatic spikes in insulin), such as sugary snacks, oily foods and energy drinks.
- Low energy levels may also encourage more sedentary behavior and less exercise.
- Possible low-key psychological stress of having one’s airways blocked.
8 Beauty Hacks for Beating the New “Maskne Pandemic”
Here are eight pro-tips for making the best out of this antiviral attack on global skincare.
1) Mask Type: Material and Friction
The moment it was announced that facemasks were to become a central icon for the “new normal,” industrial sectors everywhere got to work on crafting all sorts of mouth-blocking contraptions to stifle the spread of Covid-19.
Whatever you ultimately decide to wear, you need to make sure it works for your skin if you want to avoid a bad case of maskne. In this respect, the best masks are ones that:
A. Make little to no contact with your face
B. Sit still or are without unnecessary friction
C. Are made from an organic material, like pure cotton or silk
2) Smart Facemask Interaction
In spite of the apparent danger that may be invoked by face touching, there are times when we all have to take the risk in order to adjust the rebellious straps of our facemasks. This issue can largely be solved by getting one that fits properly (easier said than done!).
Aside from fiddling with the temperament of your facemask, there are times where taking the mask off is a sacrifice deemed necessary for the sake of having a breather and normalizing your oxygen status (or perhaps, just to make an audible phone call). It’s in moments such as these where an intelligent approach can make all the difference to the state of your pores! Instead of pulling the mask up and down throughout the day and letting it hug your chin, take the time to remove it with minimal facial contact.
When handling your facemask, it also helps to refrain from touching the inside and to keep the mask as clean as possible.
3) Oral Hygiene
However one may want to sugar-coat it, the mouth is one of the most pathogen-laden sites of the human body. The type of bacteria that love to have parties inside tooth decay certainly cannot be all that great for our skin microbiome.
It certainly doesn’t take a vast stretch of imagination to envision this bacterial party taking place every time we exhale within the safe confines of our facemasks! If you’ve ever worn your mask for a few days without washing it and it begins to smell, then you have experienced this phenomenon firsthand – that smell is the bacteria that are now growing on the inside of your mask.
Maintaining scrupulous oral hygiene is absolutely imperative in order to avoid the maskne.
If you are facing any dental complaints, you might want to consider booking an appointment with your dentist to make sure you don’t have a tooth infection or something similar contributing to this global beauty dilemma.
For those who are having difficulty accessing a dentist, Mya Care can help connect you to dentists worldwide. Book your appointment online today with some of the world’s best healthcare providers and never look back!
4) Gentle Skin Cleanliness
As mentioned above, excessive abrasion due to harsh chemical cleaning agents can cause acne. This cause is confounded currently by the fact that we need to wear an extra layer over our faces; a layer that ought to be washed diligently in order to preserve what’s left of our complexions.
Knowing that hygiene is important and yet cleaning chemicals tend to exacerbate the issue, the best solution is to employ a gentle approach to our cleanliness. Natural facial soaps and organic laundry detergents are great ways to go!
Some of the biggest issues with harsh chemical soaps are:
- A dramatic increase in skin pH, which tends to kill off beneficial bacteria.
- The heavy grease-cutting ability, which encourages unbalanced sebum production.
- Certain additives that may irritate the skin or cause endocrine disruption.
In this respect, natural soaps like castile soap (made from olive oil) are far gentler on the skin. The combination of plant-based compounds to support skin function in the face of irritation, a gentle moisturizing action to prevent excess oil stripping and a more bacteria-friendly pH all make natural soaps stick out to the discerning beauty advocate.
If you can’t afford organic laundry detergent, you can use natural soap to hand wash your mask. This may work out better for your skin too as natural soap tends to be healthier for skin than the majority of laundry products available on the market.
5) Switch to Natural Makeup or Forget It
Who would have thought that the act of hiding one’s skin behind a wall of divinely-colored dust would actually clog the pores and make acne far worse? Even before this viral chapter in human history, makeup was known to be one of the top causes of acne and still is today.
If you’re wondering why makeup should be deemed every beautician’s nightmare, all you have to do is research the ingredients list on your foundation or look it up in EWG’s Skin Deep database.
For those of us who would rather not go out without makeup, there is a decent selection of natural makeup that disdains the use of chemicals in their selection of skin-friendly pigments. One should still be wary of natural makeup however, as many of the chemicals they ban are replaced with potentially worse chemicals or organic ingredients that are seemingly safer but may still produce adverse effects.
While chemical-free makeup (literally) glitters with progress, using makeup at all will still add to the potential friction and dirt-trapping ability of a facemask - which may ultimately exacerbate acne onset. Thus, the most foolproof option is avoiding the use of makeup entirely.
6) Watch Your Diet
With there being multiple exceptions to the rule, the connection between acne and diet is largely controversial.
However there are certain foods that do seem to crop up hand-in-hand with severe acne onset. These include:
- Dairy Products. Due to the growth-factors and androgen-stimulating nutrients in cow’s milk, dairy products have a tendency to promote acne. Any products containing whey protein are also known to contribute to acne.
- Excessive Consumption of Fats, Sugar, Alcohol, Energy Drinks and Processed Foods. All of these foods are known to have a high glycemic load and negatively affect the elimination systems of the body, including the skin. High glycemic load foods are associated with acne onset.
- Any Foods Known to Cause Indigestion. If you cannot digest your food properly, it is bound to cause a digestive upset – particularly constipation. Any blockage or disruption in the digestive tract can cause increased levels of toxins to circulate the body. As the skin is a major organ of excretion, some acne may arise as a result. High protein and fat intake are commonly associated with frequent indigestion, alongside stress and sleep deprivation (due to the neurological component of stomach acid and bile production).
7) Nourish Yourself
Generally speaking, ensuring one maintains adequate dietary nutrition tends to balance out overconsuming foods that are associated with acne onset.
It would be impossible to fulfil your nutritional requirements by consuming dairy, meat and processed foods without the addition of plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and other wholefood components. Adopting a balanced variety of wholefoods in your diet makes it difficult to consume any food in excess.
Aside from majoring on nutrition, the following foods may be able to help your skin function at its optimum:
- Water. Recycling our fluids helps a lot, especially considering that water is mostly oxygen and wearing a facemask lowers our oxygen status. Water is known to aid all elimination systems of the body, provided it is not contaminated with plastic compounds or chemicals. Drink plenty of purified water from a glass container throughout the day.
- Herbal Teas. Grandmother’s wisdom is evident in the scientific literature as well as your next cup of tea. The tannins and other molecules in herbal teas (especially green tea) are known to help with stress and to encourage consistent blood sugar levels, which indirectly promotes hormonal stability.
- Bitters and other Digestion Boosting Foods. All the molecules in food that leave a bitter taste in our mouth actually get our digestive juices flowing. Most fruit and certain vegetables (like celery) are loaded with digestive enzymes that aid food breakdown in the gut and help to prevent toxin overload. Consuming lots of water-soluble fiber and moderate probiotics can also improve digestion as the bacteria (that feed on the fiber) produce an unfathomable amount of protein-degrading enzymes.
- Sulfur-Rich Foods. Sulfur appears to be involved in many early biochemical steps of generalized bodily elimination. One such important role of sulfur is rounding up and helping to eliminate testosterone, an observation that may be of use to those with an excess. Interestingly, sulfur compounds have a history of treating acne in pre-modern medicine. While more research is required to verify these claims, some dermatologists have had success in using sulfur as one part of an acne treatment protocol.
8) Exercise to Exorcise Your Acne
If you really want to avoid the maskne, do some form of exercise on a daily basis that increases your heart rate and gets you to break a sweat.
Exercise is one of the best ways to expel toxins from the body and it doesn’t cost a cent! On that note, make sure to wash your face and clear away all the toxins that will have accumulated on the surface of your skin.
Further benefits of exercise extend to boosting parameters of immunity, which may provide mild protection against acne vulgaris as well as coronavirus.
As if acne wasn’t bad enough, the rise of maskne has certainly complicated beauty by several degrees! Making sure your mask fits with minimal contact or friction as well as being a material that is gentle on your skin can make all the difference. Optimal oral, facial and mask hygiene is essential, with natural products having a penchant for being less aggressive and irritating to the skin. Exercising, consuming a highly nutritious diet and laying off the dairy can also help.
While Maskne might be annoying, remember masks are crucial in the fight against COVID-19.
If you find your maskne is not going away after trying what you can, then you ought to consult with a healthcare professional about your skin. With Mya Care, you can easily book a remote appointment with some of the world’s leading dermatologists and skincare specialists without needing to leave the comfort of your own home!
To search for the best healthcare providers worldwide, please use the Mya Care search engine.
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