Expert Tips to Help Keep Maskne at Bay

Dr. Jacob Steiger, a double board-certified plastic surgeon, walks us through a four-step maskne fighting routine.


As the summer solstice rolls around each year, we are reminded of the skin care perils that await us after long days outside, including sun burn, hyperpigmentation, and chlorine-induced dryness. This summer, our complexions have encountered a new (but necessary) foe: face masks.

With the COVID-19 crisis showing no sign of slowing down in South Florida, city officials have encouraged or mandated the use of face masks in public spaces. While lifesaving, the masks have resulted in a phenomenon the medical community has dubbed “maskne.” This occurs because masks can occlude and clog pores, disrupting the skin’s moisture barrier and causing irritation that leads to acneic breakouts where the protective gear is worn.

To help give the skin a fighting chance, Dr. Jacob Steiger, a Boca Raton–based double board-certified plastic surgeon, recommends streamlining your routine to focus on treating the problem with clinically proven steps. He encourages a regime that starts with a salicylic acid or glycolic acid cleanser. Salicylic acid is often lauded for its antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties; it can also exfoliate deep in the lipid layers of the skin.

“You want to keep your skin nice and clean since we’re not able to avoid having that mask on,” say Steiger. “We can keep our skin in the most pristine condition by reducing the bacterial load on it and eliminating the dead skin that clogs pores.”

After cleansing, Steiger advises maskne sufferers to apply a topical retinoid, which they can obtain from their dermatologist. Retin-A is available by prescription and is celebrated for increasing cell turnover, collagen production, and fighting acne. It’s something Steiger uses himself.

Because topical retinoids work so hard to promote cell turnover, they can sensitize the skin (a phenomenon called retinization), causing dryness and sensitivity to the sun. To rebuild your moisture barrier and keep pores happy, Steiger recommends hyaluronic acid to bring hydration back to the skin. Because hyaluronic acid draws moisture from the environment, it’s the perfect lightweight hydrator for humid South Florida summers.

Sun protection is the pillar of this skin care routine. Steiger notes that mineral or physical sunscreens are best. “People with sensitized skin can react to the chemicals in nonmineral sunscreen that absorb the UV rays,” he says. “Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide reflect the UV rays.”

Because the physical UV blockers can also clog pores, Steiger encourages patients to play around with zinc oxide percentages in their mineral SPF. The general rule of thumb is that 10 percent or higher offers more protection, but high percentages can translate to more occlusion.

The final piece of the maskne puzzle is something you’ve heard from parents, older sisters, and physicians alike. “Don’t touch your face,” says Steiger. “We’re trying to avoid that in general because of the virus’ spread, but you’re also disrupting the skin’s barrier and attracting bacteria and microbial agents when you touch your face.”

Though the unanticipated appearance of acne has been alarming, healthy skin is on the horizon. We can all streamline our regimens and practice smart sanitation in order to not only improve skin health, but also keep those around us safe.

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