Having a problem with breakouts from masks, or other skin health issues? You’re not alone. Wearing a mask in public per the CDC’s guidelines is the right thing to do to help curb the spread of Covid-19, but it can wreak havoc on the skin—many of us have started experiencing dermatitis and acne in the areas covered by our masks.
The issue is not necessarily that wearing masks are creating new symptoms—though that could be true if you are experiencing extremely dry or raw skin—but more that the skincare routines you may have relied upon to suppress these symptoms are no longer working in the new environment masks have created on the skin.
The second annual microbiome conference was held in San Francisco recently. The talks ranged from scientists investigating individual microbial species that call the skin microbiome their home, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Proprionibacterium acnes, to entrepreneurs with biome-based products designed to improve skin health.
Acne isn’t only for teens anymore—in fact, it affects more and more adults (primarily women) at an alarming rate. 54% of women over 25 experience some form of acne, which means that around half of us are attempting to tackle issues related to acne and aging simultaneously.
Suppose some of the approximately one trillion microorganisms that live on your skin are finding their living conditions objectionable, even intolerable. How would they let you, their god-like host, know about it? If you were a commensal microbe living on the skin, Staphylococcus epidermidis, for example, and you just wanted to go about your business keeping your little part of the world relatively pathogen-free, you might consider sending a message in the form of an acne breakout, a rosacea flush or an undesirable rash.
Nothing’s more exasperating than conspicuous breakouts. We all get them, and we all spend a lot of effort trying to avoid them. A daily diet of topical antibiotics and antimicrobials prescribed to combat acne may work for a time, but ultimately, they can disrupt the skin’s microbiome balance. It’s now common knowledge that prolonged use of antibiotics kills off beneficial bacteria found in the gut microbiome, tipping the balance in favor of over-colonization by disease-causing pathogens. Similar to the gut’s microbial disruption-disease cycle, skin microbial dysbiosis can lead to skin problems ranging from redness, irritation, rosacea, rashes, eczema, resurgence of acne and adult acne to photosensitization.
All acne, whether adult acne or teenage acne (acne vulgaris), begins when excess sebum clogs pores. This means acne starts deep down in the follicle, below the reach of anti-acne cleansers, masks and lotions.
Since a pound of prevention is worth an ounce of cure, using oils rich in omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids is a very effective way to treat acne. Rather than stripping the skin of surface oils, omega-3 and -6 facilitate deep penetration to dissolve congestion and prevent the formation of comedos (blackheads). You can also head off comedo formation by supplementing with pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), by using salicylic acid washes and masks to unclog pores (as long as you aren’t allergic) and by using a topical retinol/retinoid product.