Ever since maskne has become a widespread issue, a rarely-discussed type of skin condition keeps popping up in articles and posts: acne mechanica. Most people who work out or play sports regularly have probably suffered from acne mechanica at some point, perhaps without even knowing it. I remember training for a marathon one particularly hot summer and just assuming that my frequent body acne breakouts were some sort of heat acne, or heat pimple, or simply the result of too much sweat and dirt.
While sweat and dirt are part of acne mechanica, the key contributing factor is friction. “Acne mechanica is a type of acne that is induced from an external source that causes pressure and friction on the skin,” explains Dr. Anna H. Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist who serves on the advisory board for Smart Style Today. “It can cause micro-trauma or mini-abrasions to induce acne lesions and inflammation that often leads to pustules, which become deeper and larger with continuing pressure.”
If that sounds like a chain of unfortunate acne events that you’d like to avoid, we’ve got your back (or face, neck or anywhere you’re breaking out). Read on to find out the most common causes of acne mechanica and four ways to prevent and treat it.
What typically causes acne mechanica?
“It is more prevalent in those with a predisposition towards acne and in those who have to spend many hours in tight-fitting, less breathable masks, clothes or equipment,” says Dr. Susan Bard, an NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist. Which articles of clothing or equipment are most frequently to blame for pressure acne?
- Athletic equipment, pads, straps and helmets
- Straps from backpacks, bags and purses
- Hats and headbands
- Bra straps and bands
- Tight-fitting clothes or synthetic materials
And of course, we can’t forget masks. “Maskne/mask acne, or the type of acne that results from the prolonged use of face masks in contact with the skin, is a form of acne mechanica and is an unwanted and commonly observed result of the times we are living in,” says Chacon. “In fact, I see a patient with this skin issue nearly every day.”
RELATED READ: Maskne is Real: 6 Dermatologists Tips to Treat Mask Acne
Top acne mechanica treatments and tips
Acne mechanica can present as anything from tiny, rash-like bumps to full-blown pustules, but starting with a few basic rules can help minimize breakouts of any type.
1. Up your cleansing game
As in more thoroughly (and more frequently) washing everything — your skin, your clothes, your equipment. “To prevent acne mechanica, I recommend cleaning your face and items on a regular basis,” says Chacon. To prevent mask acne, “use a gentle, fragrance-free detergent to cleanse the item, if at all possible. If your masks are disposable, for example, dispose of them after a single use. If they are machine washable and made of fabric (cotton is preferable for sensitive skin issues), wash them after each use and have multiple pairs around.” Same goes for sweaty sports bras and other equipment — wash or disinfect them every two to three uses in order to keep them free from bacteria.
2. Keep it light underneath
Skincare, makeup, lotions and creams — stick to the bare minimum when you are suffering from acne mechanica. Heavy foundations or body care products underneath your mask or sports equipment will just increase the likelihood of clogged pores. “Also, the type of skincare you use underneath the item in question is very important,” says Chacon. “You want to make sure you are using products that say ‘oil-free’ and ‘non-comedogenic’.”
3. Add protection
Sure, it might seem weird to be talking about additional protection when you are already wearing a football helmet or PPE, but creating a physical barrier between the irritating item and your skin will reduce friction and the spread of bacteria. Mighty Patch Surface patches are ideal for this purpose. The large, rectangular size offers adequate coverage that’s thin enough to fit under your gear. Plus, the hydrocolloid eliminates any existing pimples at the same time!
4. Strip down and treat your skin
As soon as you’re safely at home and/or finished with your athletic endeavors, remove the mask, pads, clothes or equipment and take care of your skin. After cleansing, take a look at your problem areas and assess what your skin needs. Bard recommends applying a mild retinoid nightly to unclog pores and keep them clear. If you have an active breakout, you can try hydrocolloid patches like Mighty Patch Original or Invisible+. If it's only a bump for now, treat it ASAP with the early-stage microneedle patch, Micropoint for Blemishes. For skin that’s red and irritated, you can find relief from a soothing treatment with panthenol or peptides, such as Rescue Balm.
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