Words: Grace Gargini

If I'd asked you a year ago whether you thought face coverings would become an essential part of your everyday, I suspect your answer would have been ‘no’. As we start 2021, they’re very much part of our daily lives, and they’re here to stay (for a little while longer, at least), but they come with their fair share of skin issues – ‘maskne’ being the main culprit. What is ‘maskne’, you ask? Well, it’s the unfortunate side-effects that come from wearing face masks, presenting itself in the form of acne – from outbreaks of blemishes to sore, inflamed skin. If this rings a bell (I promise, you’re not alone), then I’m here to help with the tips and hard-working products you need to know. So, let’s jump in…

Cleansing is fundamental

Dr Dennis Gross – Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel

With the continued use of face masks, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re properly cleansing your skin. This means a thorough cleanse, morning and night and as soon as you get home, to remove the bacteria and dead skin that build up and lead to breakouts (more on how and why spots occur, and how to treat them, here). But thorough needn’t mean harsh – steer clear from scrubs or drying formulas that can further aggravate and strip the skin of its natural moisture. I’ve been reaching for this oh-so-clever cleanser from Dr Dennis Gross, which contains alpha hydroxy acids to gently exfoliate the skin and remove excess oil and impurities without ever feeling dry, thanks to a hydrating soap- and sulphate-free formula.

The right mask matters

Slip – Silk Reusable Face Covering

After talking to a number of skin experts on all things maskne over the past six months, it’s clear that the type of mask you wear is crucial. Why? Well, the humid environment a mask creates around your cheeks, chin and nose produces excess heat and pressure that can disrupt the protective skin barrier (aka your skin’s natural armour). Add to that the build-up of sweat and oil that clog pores and encourage bacteria to grow, and you’ve got the ideal breeding ground for breakouts. So, it’s worth opting for masks in cotton or silk that are adjustable so they’ll fit correctly to avoid extra friction. And remember to wash your mask regularly, ideally after every use. It really does make all the difference – both for safety and your skin.

Have you met niacinamide?

The Ordinary – Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

OK, so we know how and why maskne happens, but now onto how to treat it. There are a few wonder ingredients you need to get acquainted with – the first is niacinamide. Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is a versatile ingredient that benefits most skin types and works particularly well at treating acne or irritated skin because of its ability to speed up the recovery of spots as well as strengthen your skin’s immunity and restore hydration levels. Plus, it’s renowned for its ability to play well with others: you can layer with nourishing moisturisers and even other acids (as seen here with The Ordinary’s addition of collagen-boosting zinc), and unlike some of its harsher counterparts, it can be used by sensitive or rosacea-prone skin, so you needn’t worry about adding fuel to the fire. To sum up: it’s your attack and defence all in one.

The breakout buster

Paula’s Choice – Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

If you regularly suffer from blemishes or acne, you’ve probably heard all about salicylic acid. After a fair share of hormonal adult acne, I’ve certainly tried it all and can assure you this magic ingredient works wonders on congested skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. My go-to for years has been this brilliant exfoliator from Paula’s Choice – alongside salicylic acid, it contains soothing oat extract and antioxidant-rich green tea to decongest, exfoliate and protect the skin from future breakouts. Simply apply the liquid to a dry, cleansed face and follow with an oil-free moisturiser in the evenings or an SPF in the morning (yes, you need SPF in winter, especially if you’re using exfoliating acids).

The magic Miracle Broth

La Mer – The Concentrate

Now, as brilliant as acids are, it’s important to remember that throwing the equivalent of the kitchen sink in strong spot treatments at your skin isn’t the be all and end all. In fact, too much exfoliation can often weaken the skin and cause more issues, such as hyper-sensitivity. The key is treating the issues while keeping the fundamentals in place. To tick this box, meet The Concentrate by La Mer – a potent serum formulated to strengthen and protect the skin’s natural barrier from irritants that cause inflammation and premature ageing. I’ve been using this for a good few months and am a total convert. The silky serum is packed with a concentrated hit of La Mer’s renowned Miracle Broth™ that calms redness and somehow makes your skin look and feel stronger come the morning. It’s magic.

The spot shrinker

REN – ClearCalm Non-drying Spot Treatment

On days when you have a zinger of a spot, you need to bring in the big guns. For those moments, opt for a dedicated spot treatment that will eradicate your unwelcome friend(s) from your face. This one by REN is a tried-and-tested favourite for its ability to attack said spot without drying out the skin on or around the area. Its vegan and cruelty-free formula is packed with willow bark, chlorella and thyme to reduce redness, spot size and potential scarring without aggravating your skin further. Simply apply a small amount to the spot (or massage lightly into a spot-prone area) and allow to dry before applying moisturiser or make-up.

Your skin’s security blanket

Biossance – Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturiser

Whether you’re suffering from angry spots or irritated chapped skin, this restorative moisturiser is your skin’s go-to security blanket. Biossance uses 100% vegan squalane (an oil naturally found in your skin) in all of its gentle yet effective skincare to deliver a hit of non-greasy hydration while strengthening your skin’s protective barrier (yes, the barrier is back). Alongside squalane, this lightweight gel formula contains a mix of probiotics, red seaweed and ginger to calm irritation and redness (this is particularly good for rosacea), leaving skin brighter and more balanced. Think of this as the skincare equivalent of a big cosy coat to protect you from the elements.

If you must make-up…

Bobbi Brown – Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation

Experts suggest avoiding wearing heavy make-up under face coverings if you can, particularly if you have existing spots, but if you want to wear a foundation, go for one that is non-comedogenic (ie it won’t block your pores) and make sure to remove it fully and gently once the mask is off. This Bobbi Brown foundation delivers a matte medium-to-full coverage that’s super-long-wearing yet feels breathable and comfortable on the skin – perfect for those who dislike the ‘feel’ of heavy make-up on their skin. Plus, the pigments are blended with an emollient gel base to quickly sink into the skin, conceal redness and keep skin looking fresh.

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Discover more maskne skincare saviours, right here…