It's no secret that maskne (i.e., "mask acne") is everywhere right now. I mean, do a quick Google search and you'll find countless articles on the whiteheads, pustules, and bumps that can pop up on your face after wearing a cloth or surgical face mask (calling it now: maskne is the 2020 version of the leopard-print mini skirt). But here's the thing about maskne that's been keeping me up at night lately: Everyone is so quick to diagnose the pimple-like bumps on their skin as acne that they aren't leaving room for the possibility that it might be other skin conditions—like rosacea.
Yup, rosacea (which can look like red patches with teeny-tiny bumps) is sometimes mistaken for acne—at least, when you're self-diagnosing in the mirror with Google Images. And if you treat your skin for acne when you actually have rosacea, you can end up making it wayyy worse. Not fun. So, since wearing a face mask right now is non-negotiable, I got two board-certified dermatologists in NYC, Dr. Shereene Idriss and Dr. Orit Markowitz, to walk through the easiest ways to diagnose your mask breakouts—plus, the best ways to treat them ASAP.
What's the difference between acne and rosacea?
Acne and rosacea are kinda like sisters (read: not twins)—they look similar, and it can be easy to mistake one for the other. Flushed, bumpy skin is associated with both conditions, but with acne, you'll typically find that the redness and irritation is isolated to specific bumps (or comedones, which are small, skin-colored bumps caused by clogged pores)—whereas rosacea often starts at the center of your face and covers larger surface areas (like your entire cheek or forehead).
Rosacea is known to come and go, says Dr. Idriss, flaring up in the center of your face while acne sets up camp everywhere. Plus, rosacea is usually triggered by things like heat or irritants, and acne is more chronic and consistent, she says. Here's where things get a little tricky: Inflamed bumps or cysts are technically a sign of both rosacea and acne, which makes the guessing game harder.
And, no, that doesn't mean you should just slather on an acne treatment and hope it does something—because using the wrong formula can actually make your skin more dry, inflamed, and irritated says Dr. Markowitz. The safest bet is to stop playing DIY derm and call up an IRL one to help you identify your condition for good.
What triggers rosacea?
Okay, if you're pretty sure your mask breakout is rosacea—not acne—it's time to figure out what specifically is causing it. The heat and friction from your mask are obvious culprits, but rosacea triggers can also include alcohol, caffeine, stress, spicy food, and UV exposure. Figuring out your triggers can be a process—again, you'll need a dermatologist to help walk you through it—but it's worth the extra effort if you want to keep your flareups at bay. In the meantime, keep reading for the easiest steps you can take to make sure your mask isn't flaring up your rosacea.
How to keep your mask from f*cking with your rosacea:
1. Layer on moisturizer before you mask up
According to Dr. Markowitz, quick environmental changes—aka going from an air-conditioned home to outside on a hot summer day—can shock your blood vessels and exacerbate your rosacea. She suggests throwing a moisturizer in your fridge and smoothing it over your face before you head outside. The cooling sensation has a soothing effect that preps your skin for the temp change, and the moisturizer acts as a protective barrier from the elements. Look for a gentle moisturizer with ingredients like oatmeal, allantoin, and rucus extract to help calm any redness or irritation.
2. Wear SPF every single day
Consider this your daily reminder to wear SPF con-stant-ly, since heat from UV-ray exposure can actually intensify your rosacea. According to Dr. Markowitz, a cotton face mask has an SPF of 7 max. That's not even close to the daily recommended SPF 30, so make sure you load up on sunscreen and re-apply often. BTW: If your skin leans towards the sensitive side, Dr. Idriss says to opt for physical sunscreens instead of chemical—they're way less likely to irritate your face. One of these should do the trick:
3. Don't compound your triggers
This doesn't mean you need to completely get rid of anything. Dr. Idriss just suggests taking small steps, like maybe skipping that extra-hot coffee after you've been wearing your face mask for half an hour in the summer heat. Just give yourself some time to cool down before you chug the espresso.
4. Switch to a cotton face mask
Not only is there less friction when it rubs against your face, but cotton is way more breathable than polyester fabrics, says Dr. Markowitz. Wearing a cotton face mask is an easy step towards cooling down—and the less heat you have trapped under your mask, the less likely your rosacea is to thrive.
5. Wash your mask with dye- and fragrance-free detergent
Not doing talking about your mask yet! The type of detergent you use to clean your mask is super important, especially if your skin is sensitive (which, if you've got rosacea, it likely is). According to Dr. Markowitz, dyes and fragrances can get stuck in the fabric of your mask, leading to more irritation, so it's best to go with something gentle.
6. Cleanse your skin with a gentle face wash
This may sound obvious, says Dr. Idriss, but making sure you end the night with a clean base can make all the difference. Opt for a lightweight and hydrating one to get rid of all the grime and sweat and to soothe any irritation.
The bottom line
Now that we're in a world where wearing a face mask is a must, you just have to figure out how to tailor your skincare routine to fit your new skin concerns. And even though ~technically~ there's no cure for rosacea (science is still working on it), there's still so much you can do to get your skin to look and feel more zen. And, as always—it doesn't hurt to check in with a dermatologist before you change up your routine. It's the safest way to make sure you're treating your skin correctly.
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