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Photography by Victor He, courtesy of Unsplash.

The mass donning of face masks as a barrier against COVID-19 is helping to save lives around the world. It’s also creating new skin problems including mask-induced acne—dubbed “maskne”—making skincare one of the few bright spots in retail.

Like repeated hand washing, wearing face masks can cause skin irritation. Skincare brands are responding with products and services to alleviate this, reaching consumers at home through online channels.

Dr. Rachel Ho, an aesthetic doctor in Singapore, said she began seeing patients in early March with acne mechanica—acne caused by pressure and friction around the seal of the mask, starting with health care workers and then others.

In addition, “the mask also creates a seal where humidity, saliva and germs can’t escape and you get more acne inside the mask,” she tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence.

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Since then, she’s noticed a rise in skincare brands promote calming, botanical and natural ingredients as well as single-hero ingredients like Vitamin A or E, retinoids and niacinamide to target acne.

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Allies of Skin, courtesy of Instagram

In May, for example, Singapore skincare brand Allies of Skin explained the phenomenon of “maskne” on its Instagram account: “If you’re suddenly noticing breakouts where your face mask sits, so anywhere along the bridge of the nose, chin and cheek are, you might be experiencing maskne” and recommended a morning routine of six products to battle it.

During Singapore’s “circuit breaker”—what the government called its lockdown—beauty spas, salons and some doctor’s offices were closed.

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Sabrina Tan and Martin Wong, courtesy of Instagram
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Just before the circuit breaker ended in June, Skin Inc., known for its customized face serums, posted a video on Instagram of founder Sabrina Tan, at home in pajamas, and celebrity stylist Martin Wong discussing makeup and skincare tips for mask-wearers, including how to ward off acne.

“Covid-19 has really changed the game for the beauty industry,” said Dr. Ho. “It’s given the impetus to beauty brands to reach out. They are trying to bring the technology home for the patient, a DIY dermatology.”

Some fashion brands are offering masks with fabrics that keep skin cool and dry to begin with. When Uniqlo debuted its AIRism washable face mask in Japan, made with the breathable fabric used in the brand’s popular underwear, they sold out in stores and online shoppers crashed the company’s website.

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White Trousseau
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In Singapore, a wedding gown rental company, White Trousseau, is selling silk masks with a slot for disposable PM2.5 filters that it says “keeps your face dry, discourages microbial growth, reduce allergies & bacteria, prevents overheating thus improving your complexion during this mask season.”

All of this is helping make skincare one of the healthiest sectors in the pandemic.

“The first half of 2020 has shown that skin care is proving far more resilient than other beauty categories such as color cosmetics,” Euromonitor said in its “Skin Care in Asia Pacific” briefing, published July 23. “Products such as facial cleansers, moisturizers and hand care are increasingly deemed essential by many consumers, with skin health becoming a greater priority.”

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Skin Inc, courtesy of Instagram
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Asian consumers bought $74.4 billion worth of skin care products last year, accounting for just over half of global sales, according to Euromonitor. China is the biggest market, followed by Japan and South Korea. Japan and South Korea are the most mature markets, while growth is fastest in China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“Despite the pandemic’s threat to national economic prospects, skin care is expected to thrive over the next few years, with consumption increasing,” said Euromonitor. In recent years, skincare sales have been driven by rising health awareness as well as a reaction to air pollution and the stress of living in increasingly crowded, urban environments. Now COVID-19 is the latest driver.

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