You know you’re living in 2020 when you’ve fallen down the Google rabbit-hole of maskne solutions. Maskne, the clever portmanteau that marries ‘mask’ with ‘acne’ is exactly what it is: sweat and sebum, mixed with bacteria from your hot clammy breath and—you get the picture.
Breakouts in the U-Zone (think: cheeks, chin and jawline) are nothing new to adult acne sufferers, coincidentally the same region where we now often experience maskne in all its insidious forms as a result of responsible masking in this age of Covid-19. As we streamline our skincare, swap out irritating products and chafing N95 masks for filtered silk masks, manage stress which invariably causes a rise in cortisol that also affects our skin, know that like zits, maskne can strike anyone, any time. Regardless of age or ethnicity, acne can take an emotional toll and ranges from smaller breakouts of pimples to more severe skin lesions spread over the face, neck and sometimes chest. Hormonal imbalances, blockage of oil or sebum on the skin, bacteria and inflammation—the usual suspects responsible for acne, can also be intensified by mask-wearing. While there’s a growing movement encouraging us to love our acne scars and post-inflammatory marks, only you can decide if they’re an issue for you.
Does humidity cause acne breakouts?
“The humid climate in Singapore is associated with increased skin oiliness and enlarged pores. Increased skin oiliness plays a role in the formation of comedones and acne,” reveals Dr Gerard Ee of The Clifford Clinic who has seen a rise of maskne among his patients. “Mask acne can occur as a spectrum from comedones or clogged pores, to papules and pustules in the distribution of the face covered by face masks.”
Why does mask acne occur? Two factors, says Dr Ee. “The seal of the face masks around the face traps germs and humidity and this encourages overgrowth of bacteria and fungi. Friction due to the rubbing of the face masks on the skin causes inflammation and eruption of comedones to form papules and pustules. This is called acne mechanica.” And while muggy climates such as those in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines have been associated with increased skin oiliness and clogged pores, Dr Ee says that the “weather per se is not a major factor in the pathogenesis of acne”. In short, the role of your genes and hormones, combined with bacteria, skincare products (and now, abrasive masks) play more significant roles in the formation of P. acnes bacteria on the face.
What are the solutions to be free of maskne?
Even if you’re lucky to be maskne-free, there is the concern of enlarged pores. According to Dr Melvin Tan of Epion at Tanglin, whose clinic treats everything from acne to dull skin and everything in between, “the hot and humid climate here stimulates our sebaceous glands to be more active meaning more oily skin. More pumping from the gland also means that the pores which are the opening of the gland on the surface will be dilated.” Where over-the-counter treatments are concerned, Dr Melvin points us to products with chemically-exfoliating ingredients such as AHAs or glycolic acid, and BHAs such as salicylic acid. In-clinic “prescription-strength products include Tretinoin, Differin, Clindamycon gels may also be required.”
Gone are the days of harsh and stripping pore-care products: these clarifying masks and anti-acne spot serums are now potent while being gentler than ever.
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Dr Dennis Gross, Alpha Beta Daily Peels
Twenty years on and Dr Dennis Gross remains the Number One peel brand at Sephora, with a box sold every minute. Yes, the next best thing to an in-clinic peel celebrates two decades of purifying, minimising the look of pores, and evening out skin tone and texture with its oil-free formula containing 7 alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHA and BHAs). Glycolic and lactic acid (AHAs) work to reduce visible signs of ageing and support cell renewal, while salicylic acid (BHA) helps reduce blocked pores and supports natural collagen. These single use peels also deliver ceramides, antioxidants and vitamins to hydrate and reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier. While we may not have the glam squads of its celebrity fans including Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen, Selena Gomez and Constance Wu—it’s comforting to know we can daily resurrect skin’s radiance with this sweep-on treatment.
Dr Dennis Gross, Alpha Beta Daily Peels, $135 for 35 treatments; available at Sephora
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Est.Lab PurClear Anti-Acne Serum
This gentle yet power packed anti-acne serum features tea tree oil, a natural amine phenol-rich zit buster that is also naturally anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. Coupled with microbiome rich alpine willowherb extract with salicylic acid, the serum controls sebum production and shine while minimising the appearance of pore size. It gently calms irritation and is great on acne-prone areas before moisturiser daily.
Est.Lab PurClear Anti-Acne Serum, $152 for 30ml; available at Est.Lab
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Sulwhasoo Herbal Clay Purifying Mask
Gone are the days where breakouts and sensitised skin would be further aggravated by tight, overly-drying masks. Sulwhasoo’s Herbal Clay Mask is a win for sensitised skin that needs a lot of tender lovin’. Natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties found in its herbs and ultra-fine Muan clay from Korea’s western coast work to deeply penetrate pores, drawing out impurities while offering anti-inflammatory benefits. PHA or polyhydroxy acid, similar to AHA, gradually and gently loosens dead skin cells on the skin’s surface to improve skin’s texture.
Sulwhasoo Herbal Clay Purifying Mask, $66 for 120ml; available at Sulwhasoo
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Skinceuticals Clarifying Clay Masque
This non-drying mask combines the highest quality earth clays, kaolin and bentonite, to decongest pores and impurities, remove excess oils while a hydroxy acid blend works to gently exfoliate dead skin cells, leaving skin brighter and clarified.
Skinceuticals Clarifying Clay Masque, $89 for 60ml; available at Skinceuticals
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Kiehl’s Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment
Adult acne isn’t always cut and dry, with studies showing that 61 per cent of adults with acne reporting having sensitive skin, and 72 per cent of adults with acne having dry skin, according to Kiehl’s. If you need to get rid of breakouts and blemishes fast (but not at the expense of your already sensitised or dry skin), this pimple-busting cream containing sulfur and vitamin B3 has been clinically demonstrated to reduce them in as little as 24 hours. It contains 10 per cent of sulfur and vitamin B3 or niacinamide to diminish the size of acne breakouts without irritating the surrounding skin. Niacinamide, a star ingredient in many a skin clarifying product, reduces surface oil or sebum, while having an anti-inflammatory effect on acne. It also works to protect and make the skin’s barrier more resilient and clarified.
Kiehl’s Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment, $52 for 20ml; available at Kiehl’s
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Origins Clear Improvement Charcoal Honey Mask
Gone are the days of ultra drying, super stripping oil-controlling masks. Nourish and detox the skin at the same time with this mask containing ‘nature’s dirt magnet’, bamboo charcoal, which, according to Origins, can absorb 100 times its weight in impurities to detox pores and control oil with kaolin clay. They’ve added cruelty-free golden wildfire and fermented honeys to gently nourish and condition the skin, while essential oils of rosemary, wintergreen, clove, and spearmint make slowing down for a mask a true self-care moment.
Origins Clear Improvement Charcoal Honey Mask, $63 for 75ml; available at Lazada
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Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask 2X
Shine on without the oil slick with this reformulated 10-in-1 pore care solution that claims to reduce excess sebum by a whopping 98 per cent, minimise pore size by 63 per cent and reduce the number of visible pores by 49 per cent. This do-all mask exfoliates, deep cleanses, and blasts blackheads and impurities with a cooling effect.
Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask 2X, $21 for 100ml; available at Shopee