We asked an expert how to deal with the common skin irritations that are flaring up right now (looking at you, maskne!)
In partnership with La Roche Posay
The pandemic has affected people in so many ways—right down to the state of their skin. Even if you’ve always been committed to your skincare, the challenges of 2020 may have thrown your tried-and-true regimen off course. Frequent hand sanitizing, irritation caused by face masks and increased stress levels all call for updated strategies for taking better care of our skin.
We called in a dermatologist to help us with our most common skin irritations, either caused by or exaggerated by COVID-19.
The effects of stress on skin
If your stress levels are through the roof (trying to work while simultaneously parenting will do that), you’re not alone. One of the ways that stress can manifest itself is on your skin. “Stress can be linked to exacerbation of various skin conditions such as rosacea and eczema,” explains Dr. Monica Li, a clinical instructor at the Department of Dermatology & Skin Science at the University of British Columbia. “The skin and brain are connected: Stress can increase inflammation at the skin surface, which drives some of these skin conditions.” In other words, spiked cortisol levels could have a direct impact on your skin.
But a solid skincare regimen can help calm your skin. While it might be tempting to enlist multiple products to minimize inflammation, less is really more. Look to skincare products that provide relief with soothing ingredients, while helping to repair and strengthen the skin barrier so it’s more resistant to irritants. And remove any skincare products from your starting line-up that have alcohol or fragrance, which can trigger flare-ups. Finally, stick to products with airtight packaging to prevent contamination.
The rise of “maskne”
Masks have become vital in helping curb the spread of COVID-19, but they’ve also caused complexion woes for some. Dermatologists confirm that wearing masks for a prolonged period of time can result in breakouts. This very specific skin issue has even given rise to a new term called “maskne,” though the technical term for it is acne mechanica, says Li. “This is acne that appears on sites of friction, pressure, occlusion or rubbing leading to irritation and inflammation of hair follicles.” Increased moisture and heat on facial skin are another factor, explains Li, and an uptick in sweat and oil production can clog pores.
If you’re dealing with maskne, it’s essential to maintain a healthy skin barrier, says Li. “A breakdown of [that barrier] not only leads to breakouts, but also abrasions and a reduced ability to protect your skin from the outside world.” She recommends looking for products that will help balance the pH level of your skin, or that contain hydrating ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid to repair the skin barrier, which may have become compromised due to the friction from face masks.
You can also take preventative measures, starting with the type of mask you wear. Look for one that is 100% cotton. Avoid synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester and rayon, which aren’t as breathable and can cause more sweating, Li suggests. Approach your mask the way you would when trying on clothes—look for the right fit. “Choose a mask that provides a good fit and seals the skin across your nose, at the sides of the face and under the chin, but is still comfortable,” says Li. A too-tight mask means more friction.
Allergic reactions to masks
Beyond maskne, some people can also have an allergic reaction to components of a mask such as the fabric or the dye that’s used, explains Li. That can lead to contact dermatitis, which presents as red, flaky and itchy skin. Wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time with heat and moisture underneath can also aggravate underlying inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea. Products like the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Cream and Toleriane Ultra Dermallergo Serum have fragrance-free, hypoallergenic formulas that are specifically designed to soothe, strengthen and repair the skin barrier.
The increase in hand washing
Frequent hand washing has become especially important during the pandemic, but the downside is that it can strip moisture from the skin, damage the skin barrier and exacerbate existing skin conditions like eczema. Then there’s hand sanitizers, which have a high concentration of alcohol that is especially drying for skin. Tell-tale signs of damaged skin include dryness, flaking, itchiness and abrasions.
Hand washing should be paired with regular moisturizing, while the skin is still slightly damp, says Li. “Dry, cracked skin impairs a protective barrier function, increasing the risk of infection from bacteria and other germs.” Always keep a hand cream within reach and opt for a cream with nourishing ingredients like jojoba oil and shea butter that will moisturize the skin.
Follow these tips for happier, calmer skin right now while we take the extra precautions necessary to stay safe and healthy.