Thankfully, toners, like the rest of your skincare routine, have evolved over the years. Today, many toners are alcohol-free, and instead, are used to refresh and treat the skin before you apply the rest of your serums and creams — without making you extra dry.
One such example is exfoliating toners, which are infused with chemical exfoliants such as AHA and BHA acids, which help to loosen and break up the dead skin cells clogging your pores, while also minimizing dark spots, and improving overall skin texture and tone. These formulas often include soothing and hydrating ingredients to balance out the exfoliation.
“The use of a toner can have the added benefit of mechanical removal of skin debris,” says Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in San Diego, Calif. “Simple application of a skincare product such as a serum does not lift off dull skin cells.”
Dr. Palm also notes that a toner can help balance pH level for the skin microenvironment.
When choosing an exfoliating toner, it’s important to consider your skin type and its needs. Dr. Palm says that those concerned with aging can benefit from using a formula with AHAs such as lactic or glycolic acids.
Acne-prone skin can see an improvement with BHAs such as salicylic acid, or a combination of both AHAs and BHAs. As for sensitive skin types, they may fair well with PHA acids, which are larger in molecular size and more gentle on the skin. The same goes for mandelic acid, an ingredient that is great for rosacea or redness.
While an exfoliating toner can be used daily, it’s best to introduce it slowly into your routine to prevent irritation. And if you have sensitive skin, Dr. Palm recommends using a liquid exfoliant once or twice a week at first to gauge how your skin handles it. She adds that if you are using anti-aging products such as retinoids or retinol, gradually start to use the toner over a period of days to weeks. But when in doubt, follow the usage instructions on the back of the bottle.
Finally, don’t expect clear, brighter skin over night.
While you may see some instant improvement, like a bit of a glow, it can take much longer to experience the full benefits of incorporating an exfoliating toner into your skincare routine.
“It takes 30 full days for the epidermal layer of the skin to turn over,” says Dr. Palm. “Therefore, I tell most patients to use a new topical product for two to three months (two to three cycles of epidermal turnover) to gauge response by the skin to active ingredients. However, many patients may notice changes prior to the three month mark.”
So, you made (or bought) your own face mask and have been diligently wearing it for the past few months. Now, out of the blue, you’re experiencing breakouts in strange new spots.
You’re likely dealing with “maskne“, the latest not-so-fun term to enter the coronavirus lexicon.
While it was primarily healthcare workers experiencing mask-induced breakouts and skin irritation at the beginning of the pandemic, now that masks are becoming a part of everyday life for the rest of us, dermatologists are being bombarded with (virtual) appointments for this skin woe, explains New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D. And unfortunately, the warm weather we’ve all been waiting for is only making matters worse.
So you’re not alone in your skincare struggles… but how do you treat these breakouts, and prevent them from happening in the first place? Here, derms break down everything you need to know about maskne.
What exactly is ‘maskne’ — and what causes it?
As the name suggests, “maskne” is acne brought on by wearing a face mask — and its been on derms’ radar long before COVID-19. “We saw similar skin concerns with mask use during the SARS crisis years ago,” says New York City dermatologist Michelle Henry, M.D.
“The clinical term for maskne is acne mechanic and it is caused by friction, rubbing, and occlusion of the skin by outside forces,” she explains. (You may have even experienced this from wearing sunglasses in the sweaty summer months.)
“Any friction and irritation can push bacteria into the skin, creating micro-tears — which allow easier entry for bacteria and dirt — and can lead to inflammation which then drives the acne process,” explains dermatologist Tiffany J. Libby, M.D, assistant professor of dermatology at Brown University.
You’ll notice these breakouts where the mask sits — the bridge of the nose, chin, and cheeks — and they make take the form of whiteheads, blackheads (if oxidized by the air), or even abrasions and cysts, Dr. Engelman says. “Masks can also trigger rosacea, perioral dermatitis, irritant dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and skin breakdown,” Dr. Henry adds.
While masks already trap humidity, dirt, oil, and sweat on a good day, our chin, mouth, and nose area are even more susceptible to breakouts now that summer is here. “Maskne is absolutely worse during the summer months as the increased oil production in our pores creates the ideal environment for cysts,” Dr. Henry says.
How can you prevent and treat maskne?
While any form of acne is frustrating, maskne can be particularly pesky due to the combination of factors that contribute to it — and the fact that you can’t simply eliminate the ‘outside force’ causing it. (Seriously, keep wearing your mask!) Luckily, you can make a few adjustments to your skincare routine to combat mask breakouts, soothe irritation, and stop the vicious maskne cycle.
Wash your face before and after wearing a face mask.
Hopefully, you’re taking the time to diligently wash your hands throughout the day — and avoiding touching your face as much as possible. But you should also be sure to wash your face with a gentle cleanser before applying a mask to prevent trapping bacteria under the mask and pushing it further into your skin, Dr. Engelman says.
“I recommend starting with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser once a day to target bacteria and remove excess oil,” Dr. Libby says. “I love Differin Daily Deep Cleanser which has 5% benzoyl peroxide, which is just as effective as [higher concentrations], and gentler.”
For healthcare workers on the frontline wearing the tightest-fitting masks for many hours of the day, a combination of “maskne” and eczema (which can occur in the forms of irritant or allergic contact dermatitis) is common, and can manifest as dry, itchy skin, Dr. Libby says. If you are experiencing both of these conditions, it’s important to immediately cleanse your skin after removing your mask and to use a cleanser that won’t over-dry or stripping your skin, which can worsen irritation.
Both derms recommend Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, which can also be used without water. If you have irritated or sensitive skin, gently swipe a cotton round with the cleanser over your skin, Dr. Libby suggests.
Use a chemical exfoliant.
While benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid spot treatments can help target whiteheads once they are formed, chemical exfoliants, which dissolve dead cells on the skin’s surface, are key for preventing mask breakouts from forming in the first place, Dr. Engelman says.
She suggests opting for one with salicylic acid, like Humane Clarifying Toner, once per week to unclog pores, without irritating sensitive skin. (It’ll also leave skin softer and brighter in the process.)
Apply a skin-soothing moisturizer.
After cleansing, be sure to add moisture back into the skin — but skip your heavy winter creams. “I suggest a gentle, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic moisturizer like Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion,which is formulated with hyaluronic acid to help hydrate, soothe, and restore the skin protective barrier,” Dr. Libby says.
“I recommend moisturizers with ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to help strengthen and reinforce the skin barrier,” Dr. Henry adds.
For healthcare workers or those experiencing extra dryness and eczema, applying an OTC cortizone cream on a short-term basis is helpful in alleviating skin irritation and calming down inflammation, Dr. Libby says.
Ditch your foundation.
Dr. Engelman suggests ditching heavy foundations as we head into warmer months, which will only further trap bacteria in your pores under your mask — the perfect storm for acne.
If you’re forgoing makeup altogether, you still need to apply sunscreen. “Even though our faces will be mostly covered by masks, other areas are still exposed, so it’s best to just apply an even layer of SPF as the finishing step to your morning routine,” Dr. Libby says. (And FYI, you need to wear sunscreen indoors, too).
Look for non-comedogenic and oil-free options as they work to decrease excess oil that can clog pores and lead to acne. “I like mineral options, as zinc oxide is an anti-irritant and has antimicrobial properties, both which are suitable for acne-prone and sensitive skin types,” she adds.
Or, swap your moisturizer for one with SPF. Dr. Henry suggests Olay Regenerist Whip SPF 25. “It’s a great non-comedogenic option for your daily moisturizer with sunscreen that won’t clog your pores.”
Add a soothing, occlusive balm.
If you’re already dealing with maskne, creating a physical barrier to protect this chapped skin is key. Layer on a hydrating and occlusive balm, like Glo Skin Beauty Barrier Balm, along the area where the masks sits right before you put it on, Dr. Engelman says. This will not only soothe parched skin, but it will prevent bacteria from spreading, she adds.
Or, opt for pimple patches.
Another physical barrier Dr. Libby suggests is silicone tape or Duoderm ($24; amazon.com), again applied to skin where the mask contacts your face and applies the most friction. “Acne patches, like COSRX, are another dual-functioning solution as they apply acne medication to individual lesions throughout the day, while also serving as a physical barrier to the mask,” she says.
And don’t forget to wash your fabric mask every time you wear it.
If you’re wearing a fabric face mask, you should be washing it after every. single. time. you wear it. This is important for your health: You don’t know what bacteria the mask has come in contact with and don’t want germs making their way into your nose or mouth. But it’s also helpful for keeping breakouts at bay.
Bottom line: “Masks, while important for our safety, can trap in humidity, dirt, oil, and sweat and — if you’re not cleaning them properly or reusing them for prolonged periods of time — this can further exacerbate these symptoms,” Dr. Libby says.
That’s why it’s a smart idea to make or buy a few masks (ideally in a softer fabric, like a silk blend, to reduce friction) so you can easily switch them out and wash them in between uses, Dr. Engelman says. Another option? A mask with the aforementioned zinc oxide embedded in the fabric may be helpful, Dr. Henry adds. “Zinc is anti-inflammatory and soothing to the skin. It will contribute to protecting the skin barrier.”
As summer’s scorching temps and steamy humidity slowly turn to earlier sunsets and cooler, drier air, the seasonal change in weather has a larger impact on our skin than you might think.
“Our skin is our first and most important barrier between our bodies and the outside world,” says Stanford-educated dermatologist Dr. Laurel Geraghty. “As temperatures and humidity levels drop, skin is one of the first organs to feel the effects, as it becomes dryer, more fragile, flakier, and itchier.”
Fall and winter are also when recurring skin conditions, like eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis rashes, tend to flare up, she cautions.
To keep skin radiant and healthy — and dry skin freak outs far, far away — follow these dermatologist-approved skincare swaps and tweaks to make the seasonal shift seamless.
Why Does My Skin Get So Dry in the Fall?
“In the fall and especially in the winter, the dip in humidity, cooler weather, hot showers, and indoor heaters all dry out the skin and damage the skin barrier,” explains Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified NYC dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. “When the skin barrier is compromised, skin becomes sensitized, leading to cracks in the outer layer of the skin, loss of hydration, and eventually, inflammation.”
To soothe these negative seasonal effects on skin, a hydration-boosting skincare routine is critical and should also work to keep the skin barrier healthy. To help combat these changes, Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin recommends using products rich in cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides.
When Should I Change My Skincare Routine?
It’s a subtle, delicate dance between summer and fall — one day it’s toasty enough for a tank top and the next you’re reaching for a hoodie — but there are a few seasonal red flags to nudge you to begin the transition.
A good rule of thumb is how often you’re reaching for a light jacket before going outside, says Houston-based dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, Dr. DiAnne Davis. If you’re grabbing another layer of clothing more days than not, that’s a sign to re-evaluate your routine.
A slightly more playful seasonal sign, according to Dr. Geraghty, is when it’s cold enough to see your breath.
But most importantly, you have to listen to your own body. “Some patients with sensitive skin or extremely dry skin may have to make adjustments sooner than patients with oilier skin,” Dr. Davis explains.
Skincare Swap 1: Cleansers
Foaming cleansers or gels that help to control oil and do a nightly deep clean are a godsend when summer temps hit the 90s. But in the winter, when there’s less moisture in the air to begin with and the skin produces less oil, it’s a double dry skin whammy. Cleansers that strip skin of its natural oils will accelerate and intensify dry skin.
Tread lightly with acne-focused skincare made with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, cautions Davis, as these harsh ingredients can exacerbate dry skin. Bottom line: shelve the clarifying, acne-focused and super foamy cleansers until next summer.
During the dog days of summer, a light lotion or tinted cream may be enough to keep skin moisturized and supple, but as soon as the temperature drops, all bets are off. There’s no way around it: Keeping skin hydrated in the cooler months is the cardinal rule of wintertime skincare.
To build a defense against dry skin, choose a rich, creamy moisturizer with humectants and occlusive ingredients. “Not only to draw water into the skin but also to seal the hydration into the skin,” says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin, who recommends the moisture-packed StriVectin Re-Quench Water Cream to her patients. “Overall, ingredients like glycerin, ceramides and Niacin ensure well hydrated skin as well as a robust and intact skin barrier.”
For the driest skin types, and those with eczema and psoriasis rashes, heavier creams and ointments containing petrolatum, like shelfie staple Aquaphor, quench and heal skin better than anything else, says Dr. Geraghty, even if it leaves a slightly messy, gooey feeling on the skin. And really, what’s a little stickiness compared to a lot of relief?
To really amp up the skin’s absorption, follow the technique that dermatologists often call the ‘soak and smear’: apply your serum or moisturizer after cleansing your face and patting dry, but while the skin is still damp for maximum hydration.
Skincare Swap 3: Serums
To go the extra mile to combat skin dehydration, layer on a nourishing serum, like the popular cult classic Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, that will help replenish lost moisture, giving you long-term hydration and smoother, plumper skin.
Pat the serum onto damp skin after cleansing but before a moisturizer.
Skincare Swap 4: Sunscreen
“Unless you’re out skiing, exercising, or golfing on a bright winter day, or unless you live in a southern state, there’s not much need for a high SPF sunscreen, that being SPF 50 or higher, since UVB rays are at a minimum,” says Dr. Geraghty.
On the flip side, UVA rays — the long wavelengths of sunlight that penetrate into the skin’s dermis, breaking down collagen and elastin, which contributes to sun spots, sagging, and wrinkling — dominate the winter months. And even worse: because of the cooler temps, it’s harder to feel the ray’s effects on your skin, which can lead to serious sun damage without even noticing.
“During the cool months, it’s important to choose a sunscreen labelled ‘broad spectrum,’ since the SPF rating refers only to protection against UVB and not UVA light,” explains Dr. Geraghty, who favors Elta MD UV Daily and Supergoop! Superscreen Daily Moisturizer SPF 40. “The ingredients available in the US that most effectively protect against UVA light are zinc oxide and avobenzone.”
Skincare Swap 5: Actives and Exfoliants
For sensitive skin types, tread lightly with potentially irritating ingredients, like alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, retinoids, and toners, says Dr. Geraghty, who scales back her own topical retinoid cream during the winter to three to four times per week versus her nearly daily summertime use.
Because it’s easier for the skin to become inflamed during the drier months, Davis also recommends cutting back on exfoliating. Chemical or physical exfoliation once or twice a week should be plenty, unless you have visible flakiness, as it can perpetuate the dehydration cycle by stripping the skin’s oils. And when you do exfoliate, go for a lighter, less intense exfoliant, like Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight.
When in doubt with wintertime actives, follow Dr. Geraghty’s words of wisdom: If anything makes the complexion stingy, burning, or pink, that could be a sign it’s too irritating for the season.
Skincare Swap #6: Lip Balm
If you think a thin swipe of flavored tinted lip balm will save your lips from getting chapped or cracked, think again. Load up on tiny tubes of Aquaphor — Dr. Geraghty keeps hers in several highly trafficked areas — or Vaseline to layer on throughout the day to proactively protect the skin.
How do you approach your skincare routine? Is it with a certain sense of abandon, incorporating any and every strong active ingredient? Or have you taken a more measured route – stepping back, consulting a professional, and considering what will work best for your skin? If you’re in the first camp, a little swotting up is all that’s required to get you back on the beauty straight and narrow. Thanks to LA-based celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas, who has worked with everyone from Julianne Moore to Emma Roberts, we have her book Glow From Within to consult on the rules of skincare. And Vargas knows a thing or two about what makes for a robust, radiant complexion.
An advocate of a “pillar-based”, 360° approach to the skin, Vargas has conquered all manner of concerns in her time as a facialist. “Beauty isn’t skin deep,” she says. “Today, most of my clients know that they need to eat nutritious meals, avoid particular foods, and drink enough water to achieve their own brand of youth.” Other positive lifestyle choices she recommends are good self-care, paying attention to your body, prioritising sleep, reducing stress, and doing some exercise. She sums it up as making “time for connection and joy” in her book.
As for products, “I recommend a minimalist regimen,” Vargas says. “Cleanse at night and apply a serum or a mask for sleeping. In the morning, cleanse or rinse, apply a serum, moisturiser and a sunscreen,” she says. “I also exfoliate twice a week and do a beauty mask once a week.” Finding the right cleanser for you is relatively straightforward – simply use a gentle formula that targets your skin issues and doesn’t leave your face feeling tight after washing. So far, so simple. But Vargas is also enthusiastic about another, potentially confusing pillar of good skincare: active ingredients. So where to start?
Vargas says any effective routine should incorporate a retinol at night. “It’s great for all skin types, and using a vitamin C in conjunction for the day will help brighten skin.” Despite what many people think, good retinoids can be bought over the counter – brands like Skinceuticals and Medik8 offer an array of options that cause little to no skin irritation. Medik8’s Crystal Retinal 3 Serum is a brilliant entry point and will help to increase cell turnover, leading to more even skin tone, smoother texture and, of course, fewer fine lines. No 7’s new Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex is a good high street option. There’s also Vargas’s own brilliant vitamin C serum (the Rescue Serum), which combines vitamin C with super-hydrating squalene and elderberry extract, a powerful antioxidant. You can also find it more potently in Vichy’s LiftActiv Peptide C Ampoules, which contain 10% fresh vitamin C as well as hyaluronic acid within each capsule.
Exfoliation is also at the top of Vargas’s list when it comes to encouraging a glow back into the skin. “It usually acts as a mini facial and brings back glow immediately,” she says. She recommends a fruit enzyme-filled mask or treatment, with one or two other alpha hydroxy acids (actives that are excellent for keeping skin healthy and luminous), like lactic, kojic, mandelic or glycolic, to gently nibble away at the pore-clogging dead cells that can sit upon skin, making it look far less happy than it should. Try Sand & Sky Emu Apple Enzyme Power Polish, Herbivore’s Prism 20% AHA + 5% BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial,or Joanna Vargas Exfoliating Mask. Note that she recommends performing a treatment like this twice a week, rather than every day.
For hydration, Vargas is a fan of hyaluronic acid, the wonder molecule that can hold up to a thousand times its own weight in water, meaning it hydrates and plumps the skin as no other active can. Niod’s Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex is a great option, since it contains 15 different forms of hyaluronic (which means it’s more likely to conquer the skin barrier), or Dr Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Acid is also highly concentrated, with long and short chain hyaluronic molecules for better penetration.
Of course, there are other active ingredients that can prove beneficial in any good beauty routine, but as Vargas points out, these are the key power players that form the basis of excellent skincare. Listening to your skin and what it’s telling you, however, is also key – what works for one face won’t necessarily work for another. “Unhealthy skin can appear red, inflamed or irritated and, when pinched, may not bounce back but will tent up in a wrinkly shape. Or you could simply be struggling with breakouts,” says Vargas. If that’s the case, combat irritation with soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide, aloe vera, green tea or cica, to name four, then reconsider the product you’ve used and whether you might have overdone it.
After that? Your fifth and perhaps most important active, SPF (which is actually a cocktail of different actives). Apply, and you’re ready to take on the world.
Please seek expert advise from a dermatologist or a skincare expert if you feel conflicted with all of the different product reviews, or have specific skin needs/concerns.
Give a new product enough time to see results – sometimes it might take from 1-3 months to see the results of a new product in your skincare routine.
Cleanser – should see results immediately – up to 4 weeks, pay attention to skin texture and moisture levels.
Toner – should see results immediately – 2/3 weeks, pay attention to skin texture and hydration benefits.
Serums – should see results in 3-5 weeks if it’s a hydrating/anti-aging product, 2-3 months if it’s a skin brightening/hyperpigmentation product, 1-3 months if it’s an acne-targeted but not prescription product.
Eye creams & Sunscreens – should see and feel immediate results. Pay attention to improvements in fine lines and texture.
Don’t overuse physical exfoliants – rubbing in the beads can cause irritation and skin sensitivity, make sure you’re gently gliding the product over your skin or use a chemical exfoliator on a cotton round instead.
Don’t remove clay masks with a cloth – the skin will look red and feel irritated when removing a dried-out clay mask. Instead, keep removing it with water until it’s gone.
Rinse off the micellar water – especially cheaper products are formulated in a way that can cause dryness and clog pores. Also, make sure the micellar water is not your only makeup-removing step.
Don’t rely on popular skincare websites to check skincare product ingredients – they’re not a trustworthy source, they list all of the ingredients and give them a rating. But we have to look at the formulation as a whole with dominant and recessive percentages, “it’s the dose that makes the poison” (referring to alcohol in products being seen as a drying agent). Also, the ingridients are mostly uploaded by users, not companies, which can be misleading.
You might not need to use a specific product at all – understand what all active ingredients are doing for your skin and whether you need it or not. Figure out what you need for your personal skin concerns and benefits you want to see.
Remember that skincare can only do so much – don’t rely on skincare alone to fix your concerns, take into account your diet, exercise, water intake, genetic conditions, and always seek professional help if you feel the need to.
Maybelline’s Great Lash Mascara – the packaging hasn’t even changed that much since 1971, but popularized in the 80s. It was the first water-based mascara, making it much easier to remove and having a faster drying time after initial application; it’s also free of chemicals and oils to avoid irritation.
Revlon’s “Cherries In the Snow” Lipstick (since 1950s) – it’s a blue-based red, making it universally flattering on many different complexions, but depending on your skin undertone it may pull a bit more raspberry or true red.
Carmex Original Lip Balm (since 1937) – one of the best tried-and-true products to bring the chapped/dehydrated lips back to life overnight. The first jar of Carmex sold for $0.29!
Coty Air Spun Transluscent Powder (since 1935) – gives the skin an airbrushed, flawless finish, while having a neutral undertone (which is hard to find still to this day). The first Coty Air Spun Powder box was introduced in 1925, and it was revolutionary because it was the first to be spun by air, giving it a finer texture and greater fluffiness. The only thing that repelled people from it was the scent, however, now they make an unscented version!
Noxzema Skin Cream (since 1914) – it wasn’t marketed as a skin cleanser until the 1950s, when a company secretary realized how beautiful it made her skin look.
Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser (since 1846) – one of the oldest skincare products to exist today, it does a great job at removing makeup, leaving the skin very moisturized. The term “cold cream” comes from the cooling feeling it leaves on the skin.
Some of my personal skincare favourites are known to many beauty lovers. There are a few that not many people talk about though, but that bring amazing results!
Here are a few showcased here and why I recommend them:
Clean & Clear Morning Burst Skin Brightening Cleanser wakes up the skin with an invigorating formula and citrus scent, oil-free, suitable for all skin types;
Wander Beauty Gold Eye Patches are quite an investment, but if used sparingly with a generous amount of time between each mask – you’ll still see the difference and it’ll be worth it! They’re very hydrating and feel luxurious;
Spectro Cleanser for combination skin (now, that doesn’t mean other skin types can’t use it, the opposite in fact) has a gel-like consistency that glides over the skin gently but is extremely effective. I recommend using it twice a day – morning and evening;
St. Ives Apicot Scrub has been in the talks of beauty lovers for years! Some swear by it and others swear about it… My personal opinion is that it helps tremendously when used once a week to get rid of dead skin cells and help purify pres. However, if physical exfoliants aren’t for you – then stay clear of this product and use lighter exfoliating face washes instead;
Cup’O’Coffee Lush Face Mask comes in a large tub that lasts for months! It smells like coffee the entire time you have it on (I’m guilty of leaving it on for way longer than recommended) and is very effective at brightening and purifying the skin. Suitable fo all skin types, made with natural ingredients and is cruelty-free;
Olay Daily Moisturizing Lotion is a lovely daily moisturizer with SPF (which is always great to have in a skincare product) and has a light consistency that keeps the skin nourished all day long! I recommend it fo all skin types and I’ve never had a client speak ill of this affordable product either.