SINGAPORE – In the early days of the pandemic, Ms Lily Kew, 49, recalls having air stewardesses stream into her chain of facial salons for appointments. After prolonged wearing of masks on flights, they were experiencing breakouts on the lower half of the face, increased skin sensitivity and dryness.

Now, with mask-wearing enforced, the founder of local skincare line and salon chain Kew Organics – which had to shut during the circuit breaker – foresees more having skin problems.

Add to that the stress of working from home; for some, juggling home-based learning and family; and the daily anxiety of not knowing when the coronavirus will finally abate – and you have a recipe for acne, says the mother of two.

It begins with skin irritation, which occurs from regular contact of skin with the mask fabric, say experts.

"Wearing a face mask can cause a build-up of sweat, oil, dirt and make-up, directly causing acne or worsening skin irritation," says Dr Chua Cheng Yu, 35, who runs private practice Veritas Medical Aesthetics (

"In extreme cases – such as healthcare workers who have to wear tight-fitting masks for prolonged periods of time – cuts and abrasions may even happen."

The hot and moist environment created from breathing trapped air makes it ideal for bacteria to grow, adds Ms Har Ni, 38, training manager at aesthetics clinic chain Novu Aesthetics ( Friction from adjusting your mask frequently can also aggravate breakouts.

Taking care of skin at home[hhmc]

While facial salons and aesthetic clinics remain closed during the circuit breaker, it is still possible to take care of your skin at home with over-the-counter or home remedies. The key is to maintain a consistent skincare regime with a few choice ingredients, say experts.

After applying a facial oil or gel, your fingers are all you need to help release tension from facial muscles. PHOTO: KEW ORGANICS

If you are prone to dry and peeling skin after wearing a mask for an extended period, wash your face with a gentle cleanser that does not strip the skin's natural moisture, says Ms Har. Pat dry, leaving some moisture on the skin, then apply an oil-free moisturising cream to rehydrate.

"Choose a moisturiser that contains ceramides, which help maintain a healthy skin barrier. Ingredients like glycerine and hyaluronic acid, both naturally present in the skin, also help to hydrate and retain moisture," she adds.

  • DOS AND DON'TS[hhmc]

  • Do

    – Pick cleansers with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

    – Hydrate the skin often with water-based skincare products. "When the skin is well-hydrated, the oil glands will slow down the production of sebum," says Ms Kew. Choosing water-based serums and face mists will also lower the skin's temperature.

    – Steer clear of harsh or chemical-laden products as these can aggravate acne breakouts, sensitivity, dullness and uneven skin tone when the skin barrier is weakened.


    – Over-cleanse your face. The sight of oily skin can tempt you to wash your face repeatedly throughout the day, but this can strip and stress skin. Once in the morning and once at night will suffice, says experts.

    – Wear make-up or foundation under your mask, as this can further occlude oil glands and pores, says Ms Har.

    – Experiment too much at home "because you're feeling bored", warns Dr Chua. "Stick to a routine that works, and focus on gentle skincare that moisturises the skin well."

Besides mask breakouts, more may be experiencing stress-induced acne at home.

When skin is stressed, the skin barrier is compromised, allowing allergens and bacteria to penetrate more easily. "Increase in stress is also shown to directly increase oil gland activity, causing oily skin," says Dr Chua.

Stress-induced acne appears more frequently in the T-zone and forehead areas, unlike hormonal acne which tends to occur along the lower cheeks, jawline and upper neck.

Look out for products with Centella Asiatica, or cica, which soothes and repairs irritated skin, speeding up the healing process, advises Ms Har.

Or try manuka honey – a gentle yet "surprisingly effective" treatment for acne, says Dr Chua. "It has antibacterial effects that gently target the acne-causing bacteria, while keeping the skin moist and reducing irritation.

"Apply it to red and swollen spots, leave it on for 20 minutes before washing it off," he adds.

You can replicate a facial visit at home too, says Ms Kew. For an easy at-home facial, start with a thorough cleanse of the skin.

After cleansing, use an exfoliating product to tackle accumulation of dead skin cells. Exfoliation once or twice a week will stimulate skin renewal, prevent breakouts and allow skin to better absorb skincare.

Some common chemical exfoliants include products that contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids (AHA and BHA), salicylic or glycolic acids – though these should be used with caution depending on your skin type.

Founder of Kew Organics Lily Kew demonstrating a simple DIY facial massage. PHOTO: KEW ORGANICS

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