Since the beginning of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the mandatory wearing of face masks, coupled with increased time spent indoors and on digital devices, have all led to a rise in new skin concerns. The term ‘maskne’ emerged on social media as early as March 2020 and soon became known as the ‘new acne’.
Characterised by an outbreak of pustules on the area of the face covered by the mask, maskne is a form of acne mechanica, which is caused by a number of factors. “The mask traps the breath; this increases humidity and temperature, which in turn increases skin circulation and sweating,” explains Candice Gardner, Dermalogica education manager. “The combination of friction and heat causes skin to produce more oil, and the moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for breakout-causing bacteria to thrive. In some clients, masks have caused sore, irritated and inflamed skin, and hyperpigmentation.”
“Even clients who never had problematic skin started coming into our salon with severe maskne after face masks became mandatory,” says Kamile Perez, branch manager, Fifth Avenue Cork. “If this is not addressed at the early stages, it can progress to severe acne or skin dehydration.”
When it comes to treating maskne, there are a number of factors to consider. “Clients should always wear a clean face mask, and double cleanse their skin every evening to remove dirt and oil, and to avoid blocked pores, which can cause breakouts,” says Tanisha Mongan, manager at The Buff Day Spa in Dublin.
“The combination of friction and heat causes skin to produce more oil, and the moist environment is the perfect breeding ground for breakout-causing bacteria to thrive.”
“A regular facial is a must; everyone’s skin is different so it’s important that a professional tailors the facial to the client’s needs and concerns,” says Perez. “We would recommend that all clients establish a regular at-home skincare routine, using a gentle pH-balanced cleanser, such as Ultraceuticals Ultra Balancing Gel Cleanser, and a pH-balanced mist to improve skin immunity and reduce the irritation that face masks can cause. For in-salon treatment, the Venus Viva is a skin-resurfacing device that addresses skin concerns for all skin types, even the most sensitive ones. It treats acne scars and diminishes them quickly and effectively after only a couple of sessions.”
“These breakouts are not your regular acne and can become inflamed and irritated,” says Michelle Ryan, education manager and trainer, Image/Yonk-ka. “Enzyme peels can be a really effective and gentle way of exfoliating the skin, while microneedling will help to regenerate the skin and minimise any scarring that may have formed as a result of the acne. I'd also recommend some IPL/laser for any uneven pigmentation that may have formed after the breakouts heal.”
“I would suggest skin peels with azelaic acid or salicylic acid, which will remove the build-up of dead skin cells that may be congesting the pores,” says Andrea O’ Donnell, Dibi Milano national educator.
“A jet peel is a also a great treatment to clean and clarify skin without being harsh,” says Nuala Woulfe, owner of Nu Aesthetics Skin Clinic in Dublin. “It is also possible to put vitamins into the skin by means of mesotherapy, utilising the power of the jet.”
Heavy creams are best avoided, she advises. “Serums that address skincare needs should be used. Hyaluronic acid is a good ingredient to help with healing the skin barrier, as is niacinamide – it boosts ceramide production, thereby improving lipid barrier function. If skin is irritated, don’t use astringents, alcohol, scrubs and ingredients such as retinol until the skin heals.”
The pandemic has also led to more people working from home, and spending longer hours indoors in front of screens and on digital devices, which means increased exposure to blue light.
“Whilst there is still research to be done on the degree of the impact of HEV (high energy visible) light or blue light that comes from digital screens, it is acknowledged that it can increase free radical damage, which causes skin deterioration and visible signs of ageing,” says Gardner. “There has also been a rise in cases of 'tech neck' from looking down at devices; this is where horizontal lines develop on the neck, contributing to a more aged appearance there.”
“Blue light damages collagen through oxidative stress,” explains Woulfe. “A chemical in skin called flavin absorbs blue light. The reaction that takes place during this absorption produces unstable oxygen molecules – free radicals – that go in and damage collagen, which leads to DNA damage. This causes inflammation and the breakdown of healthy collagen and elastin, as well as hyperpigmentation.
“Antioxidants are the antidote to free radical damage; these are derived in the diet from a range of colourful fruit and vegetables. Topical antioxidants with vitamin C are a good choice because the molecule is small enough to penetrate the skin. For example, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic serum contains 15% vitamin C paired with vitamin E – the two ingredients combined with ferulic acid, another antioxidant, all boost each other’s potential to fight free radicals.”
“Blue light is one of the biggest contributing factors to free radical damage,” says Valerie Osborne from Valerie Osborne Advanced Skincare in Galway. “While sunscreen is the first line of defence and essential for protecting skin from UVA and UVB rays, sunscreen may only protect skin from up to 55% of free radicals. Properly formulated topical antioxidants have been shown to neutralise skin-damaging free radicals. Therefore incorporating these and sunscreen into a daily skincare regimen provides complete protection from environmental damage.”
“I recommend the Urban Protect range from Casmara to my clients because it is specifically designed to combat environmental pollution such as blue light,” says Susan Fox, owner, Eden Beauty in Wicklow. “I always suggest that they use a good broad spectrum SPF coupled with supplements such as Skin Vit A+, and skin antioxidants, to counteract the effects of the light. For in-salon treatment, I would recommend a combination of active peels, followed by microneedling and LED light therapy to stimulate collagen, and reduce inflammation and pigmentation.
“Regarding ‘tech neck’, the neck area is often neglected, and as the skin is so fine and exposed, it can be the first area to age. I always suggest a good neck cream with restructuring and firming ingredients, and I recommend my clients start using it from age 25 as prevention is better than cure.”
The good news is that despite the impact of Covid-19, clients are more invested than ever in taking care of their skin. “The pandemic has really highlighted the importance of self-care,” says Mongan. “Clients realise now that self-care is not a luxury, it is for everyone. I believe they will continue it by keeping their home skincare routines, and coming to the salon for professional services.
“Hyaluronic acid is a good ingredient to help with healing the skin barrier, as is niacinamide – it boosts ceramide production, thereby improving lipid barrier function.”
“Clients have also had more time to spend on looking after their skin,” says O’ Donnell. “With all the professional advice available online, they’ve been able to purchase results-driven skincare for home use while waiting for salons to reopen. I think they will keep up these skincare regimes.”