Cover Dr Lisa Chan shares tips on how to treat maskne (Photo: Getty Images)

Everything you need to know about maskne and how to combat it for better skin health

As the pandemic continues, mask-wearing seems to be a permanent fixture in our lives. Add the current seasonal dryness to the constant friction and irritation, and it’s not surprising that there’s been a spike in acne cases at clinics.

If you are suffering from “mask-ne”, or facial acne caused by masks, don’t panic and definitely don’t try to pop that pimple on your own! Picking at the lesions can deepen the infection and worsen hyperpigmentation and scarring. Ensuring thorough removal of makeup and dirt with gentle makeup removers and cleansers, using non-occlusive creams, wearing minimal make-up, especially for the areas that are covered by your masks, and keeping your hands away from your face are good practices to keep your skin blemish-free.

It’s important to know that acne has several causes, and it’s key to understand what’s causing your breakout, as it can range from excessive sebum production and an overgrowth of bacteria to high-glycemic load diets or even cow milk consumption. Don’t forget that psychological stress, stagnant airflow from wearing masks, friction against the skin and heavy makeup are also common triggers.

Unsightly red bumps on the face are annoying but thankfully, there are ways to tackle these pesky breakouts.

If you’re just looking to treat mild lesions (whiteheads, blackheads or papules), you can try topical glycolic acid, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or adapalene 0.1% gel. Topical non-prescription acne therapies are generally effective, but hypersensitivity reactions can occur. It is best to test these products out on just a small area during initial use.

If there is no response to these non-prescription products after three months of treatment, a more thorough clinical evaluation may be in order.

However, if what you’re dealing with seems more than your garden variety spot, then it could be worth seeking medical help. If you’re struggling with more severe or cystic (deep, painful and pus-filled) acne, then a doctor may advise combination therapies involving topical and oral medications, chemical peels and light-based treatments (laser and intense pulsed light (IPL), which may prevent and minimise scarring.  

If you’re curious about light-based therapies, the wavelengths of IPL (400-1200nm), potassium titanyl phosphate laser (532nm) and pulse-dye laser (585nm / 595nm) can also destroy acne-causing bacteria and inhibit overactive sebaceous gland activity. Blue and red light therapy for acne can also help reduce bacterial growth.

Lastly, keep in mind that acne takes time to treat—changes need to be made deep in the skin and not just on the surface layer. It can be discouraging to wait so long for results, but only with patience and compliance can you and your physician work together to find the treatments that work best for you.

This is part of a monthly column by Dr Lisa Chan, a Hong Kong-based general practitioner who has an avid interest in medical beauty. Dr Chan, MBChB (CUHK), MScPD (Cardiff), PgDipPD (Cardiff), PGDipClinDerm (Lond), DipMed (CUHK), DCH (Sydney), also holds a master's degree in practical dermatology with distinction at Cardiff University.


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