How to handle acne, exercise, and the omnipresent face mask

Are pimples popping up more than ever before? Contributing Editor Danae Mercer looks at all things acne
How to handle acne, exercise, and the omnipresent face mask

June was Acne Awareness Month — which is timely because thanks to masks and summer sweat and workouts and all the Halo Top ice cream I’ve been stress eating, I’ve got a lot of the stuff. As someone who has never really had pimples before, the little guys have started popping up to say hello. They’re on my chin. My cheekbones. Even in those funny little corners where my nose creases when I smile.

All of it got me wondering: is self-isolation plus summer good for our skin? And if masks are going to be part of our lives for a long time, how can we navigate things like sweat and acne?

“Masking is such a struggle right now,” says Dr. Lana Kashlan, an American Board Certified Dermatologist who specializes in adult acne. “The combination of friction from the fabric rubbing against your skin, combined with the humid environment created by your breath, is a perfect set up for irritation and, ultimately, breakouts.”

There are a few tricks to manage this, Dr. Kashlan tells me. “Try a salicylic acid-based cleanser to help control oil production and limit the sebum on the skin that might clog pores,” she says. “And, more importantly, apply a good oil-free, non comedogenic moisturizer before putting on your mask. This will act like a barrier to repair your skin and protect it from irritating fabrics.” Dr. Kashlan uses Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore herself and changes her mask regularly throughout the day to drop humidity levels.“I’ve also stopped wearing face make-up,” she adds. “Just tinted sunscreen.”

When it comes to working out, I’ve seen several sports brands rolling out activity-friendly face protectors. Puma is selling a two-mask set with triple layering and an adjustable band. Meanwhile Adidas’s features recycled fabric free from plastic. But what if the sweat, humidity, masks and hormones cause acne to happen all the same?

Embrace it, suggests former Dubai resident Louisa Northcote. An acne-positive activist and creator of #FreeThePimple, Louisa is keen to remind everyone that their skin is beautiful. “I modeled from the age of 10, and then at 16 I developed pretty severe acne”, she says. “It stopped my modeling career — my job, my life, and my main passion for six years, gone, just like that!”

For years, Louisa hid her skin under heavy make-up. “I went to loads of doctors, took pills and tried creams to clear my acne, but still I was suffering. When I went to university, I hit breaking point. I’d cry every day and would rarely leave the house.” That’s when #FreeThePimple happened. Louisa was tired of not seeing faces like hers in the media — so she did it herself. “I was prepared for horrible comments, but I received so much positivity. Everyone can relate to acne in one way or another.”

Quarantine has been incredible in certain ways, says Louisa. “I’ve loved not wearing make-up, and I have been trying out new skincare products. I think isolation is a great way for anyone struggling with their skin and feeling scared to #FreeThePimple. Masks can also be a way to feel confident going makeup-free outside, as your face is covered. I know a lot of acne sufferers actually liked it.”

Like many of us, myself included, Northcote has started a new workout routine during isolation. The intensity has upped her sweat levels, and new spots are popping out in brand new places. “This made me a bit upset, but then I realised I’m not going to stop because of a few spots,” she says. “Acne shouldn’t stop you from doing things!”

That’s some advice I can certainly get behind — spots, sweat, face masks, summertime and all.

Four products that deserve a place in your bathroom cabinet…

Rosen Skincare
This boutique brand creates acne skincare that doesn’t strip over sensitize acne-prone skin. Instead they use ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid, Zinc Oxide and Vitamin C. Founder Jamika Martin recommends their Earth Mask or Charcoal Mask to combat mask acne.

Skin Republic Clear Skin Pore Refining Mask

Dhs24 at Sprii

This product helps cleanse skin’s pores, clear spots and aids in preventing future breakouts with Tea Tree and Salicylic Acid. Witch Hazel helps tighten pores and stabilizes the barrier function of the skin.

Sukin Blemish Control Clearing Facial Wash

Dhs48 at Centrepoint

The quince, pomegranate and Salicylic Acid in this facial wash work together to purify skin while removing dirt and impurities. Plus there’s coconut to keep skin hydrated.

KJ Serums Skin Karma


This UAE brand’s serum offers an anti-ageing, anti-acne treatment, which visibly reduces blemishes, breakouts, pigmentation and redness. It’s formatted with hyaluronic acid.

From the July/August issue of Cosmopolitan Middle East