Are silk masks better for our complexion? A top Singaporean dermatologist spills the tea on maskne

Are silk masks better for our complexion? A top Singaporean dermatologist spills the tea on maskne

Mask on

Text: Azrin Tan

Since mask-wearing season began, many of us have started noticing redness, pimples or cystic acne pop up in the area of our lower cheeks and mouth region. Dubbed "maskne", it is really just a localized slang for this previously obscure type of acne mechanica created due to the micro occlusive environment around the area we wear our masks. We've been hearing the terms "breathability", "comfort" and "airy" alot, but how many of us actually know what mask is a good option to go for?

Recently, silk masks have been the talk of town as it promises smoothness and a cooling sensation — something we tend to automatically associate with superiority and comfort. But from the number of thread weaves to the durability of a mask, there's actually a bunch of information to sieve through in order for you to choose the best mask for yourself. We ask the expert advice of top local dermatologist —
Dr. Teo Wan Lin, dermatologist and founder of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre — to weigh in, especially since she's recently even published her own book titled Masking Up: Dermatologist's Guide to Maskne. So, are silk masks actually better for our skin? We find out.

What is maskne?

This refers to acne that develops over skin around the area where we usually would wear a face mask, primarily due to the increase of heat and moisture that in turn increases the growth of microorganisms e.g  bacteria and yeast. In fact, wearing a mask can cause other dermatological conditions such as rosacea or facial eczema to flare up as well.

It may occur in people who are already prone to acne in the first place; if you fall under this category, your acne is likely to be worsened in the mask-wearing zone of your face. If you're not typically prone to acne, and experience red bumps or whiteheads in the mask-wearing zone after a few weeks, this is probably attributed mainly to this phenomenon.

What are the main causes of maskne?

Surprisingly enough, maskne is not actually caused by a 'lack of ventilation'. When we wear a mask, there is an increased level of moisture that comes from breathing in and out into the same facial covering, as well as from our own saliva that gets onto the mask when we speak with it on. This inevitably changes the microbiome aka the balance of bacteria on our skin in the mouth and cheeks area as the new microenvironment created from wearing the mask increases the temperature and moisture of the area —thereby leading to an overgrowth of bacteria.


Who is more prone to maskne?

Although this is not a be-all end-all, these are some factors that could make you more susceptible to this condition:

  • Individuals who are required to wear face masks for a prolonged period of time due to their occupation/lifestyle

  • Individuals with previously existing or currently existing acne-prone or greasy skin

  • Individuals with a personal or family history of sensitive skin

  • Individuals who suffer from Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)

  • Environmental factors such as humid and warm climates e.g Singapore

  • Type of fabrics used for a face mask


Are those with sensitive skin more likely to get maskne?

If you have dry sensitive skin — or you have a personal history of eczema — you are not necessarily prone to maskne, because the development of acne is usually highly attributed to the production of sebum (oil). If you do have sensitive skin however, wearing a mask may increase your chances of contracting other dermatological conditions such as frictional dermatitis that arises from textile-skin friction. This may present itself as red itchy bumps or patches rather than the usual cysts that appear with acne. In this case perhaps, a softer or smoother material might be better for your face mask.


What else do you recommend for people to prevent maskne?

If you have oily or greasy skin that is acne-prone and you often use acne spot creams, it is highly recommended that you stop using them during this mask-wearing period. Traditional acne spot creams can create an occlusive skin microenvironment under your mask, hence increasing the chances of irritation. Dr. Teo recommends that you utilise regular superficial chemical peels that are medically-approved instead.

Are reusable fabric masks a good replacement for surgical or N95 masks?

The surgical mask and N95 mask are verified as medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and are both the most ideal for certain occupations such as healthcare workers. However, both masks are fitted with specific material layers that do not make them ideal for day-to-day wear — especially if you have skin issues. The inner layer of the surgical mask is made from polyester whilst the N95 is fitted with a metallic strip that might cause abrasion.

Hence, reusable fabric masks! They're not only effective as a facial covering to limit the spread, but they are environmentally more sustainable as well.


What are the important features of a reusable fabric mask?

It should be waterproof

The primary role of a fabric face mask is to "catch" the droplets that  are emitted via speaking, breathing and coughing or sneezing. This limits the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which is largely regarded as a droplet-transmitted disease. Hence, the mask should be as waterproof as possible to keep the biofluids within the environment and not release it to the environment!

It should be durable

The other feature of a fabric mask is its reusability, and hence durability. Hence, the mask needs to be able to withstand laundering and heat for easy cleaning and hygiene purposes.

It should not retain heat and moisture

This has a lot to do with the sensation of the mask on your skin. The weight of the mask material, when saturated with sweat depends on how quickly the moisture is wicked away, and is able to evaporate. Although natural fibers like cotton and linen are less "sticky" to our skin, they are not waterproof and once wet with moisture from our bodies, the mask will weigh down on the skin and slow down evaporation. Synthetic types are more waterproof, and can help to wick the moisture away.


Are there certain fabrics such as silk that is better for our face masks?

Although one might think that a natural fiber such as silk will improve the 'breathability' of the mask, these natural fibers can only do so much, as they are not waterproof. Though smooth and comfortable to the touch on one's skin, the laundering of a silk mask is not practical, as the material requires dry-cleaning instead of the regular hot machine wash. So whilst wearing a natural silk mask is actually skin-friendly and looks good, Dr.Teo highly recommends that you find a synthetic silk alternative instead.

Synthetic fabrics such as polyester are commonly used as part of surgical masks, and even the N95 masks. But while these fabrics are more effective at preventing the transmission of respiratory particles, they are not skin-friendly at all. However, when these fabrics are conjoined and treated with the cooling properties of fibers like silk, the mask will not only be able to offer better protection, but makes it more comfortable for your skin.


Is there anything else you think is important for people to know when it comes to choosing a mask?

Choose comfort and function over aesthetics. Whilst dark fabrics may go better with your outfits, lighter and more reflective fabrics retails less heat. Also make sure that the shape and design of your mask is optimal for coverage of your nose and mouth.

The TL;DR?

Silk masks only feel comfy on our skin, but are not effective in terms of protection, and can't last very long. Opt for the synthetic silk or certain hybrid fabric alternatives instead, like the CUIONS Anti-Aging + Anti-Maskne Mask, and try to avoid choosing a mask purely based on aesthetics.

Find out more about the CUIONS copper silk face mask here.