mask-ne part 2: masks i’ve tried and my faves

ok so maskne is still a thing and since my last really long post about it, i’ve done some research and have some new thoughts. and here they are for you to peruse! these are my opinions and observations as a hyper-sensitive and aware person of details, and as a professional skin therapist focused on acne.

different masks i’ve tried

i was on a mission to try as many different kinds of masks as i could. enjoy the following fashion show, with my notes on the different masks i was able to get sent to me from the states, or find locally in japan.

neoprene masks DO NOT protect from covid!

NEOPRENE MASKS
$2-10, pretty much everywhere

in japan, i saw either the disposable surgical masks (below), or these thin and flimsy neoprene ones that basically don’t do anything, because droplets flow freely in and out of them. in japan these are known as “fashion” masks, worn more as a show of respect than any other functional reason. these were the masks i DID NOT bother testing for this experiment and i don’t recommend using them for covid prevention purposes!

they are very comfortable and washable though. if you are short on disposable masks, you can put this on top; wash this neoprene mask, and reuse the disposable + more protective mask a few times (especially helpful if supplies are short).


SURGICAL MASKS
about $1 each, sold here in japan $50/box of 50. american capitalism prices will vary, if you can find them.

the most rampantly available and cost-effective for disposables. for me, this style was much more comfortable than the fabric mask of the same flat rectangular shape (down below), because the fabric was much thinner and more breathable. the meltblown filter fabric composition of the mask also offers more reliable safety than cloth ones.

however, this wasn’t my fave for a few reasons:

  1. they were still super scarce at the time.
  2. they are disposable, and i didn’t want to add more waste for the planet to deal with. i really wanted something reusable.
  3. the folds still lay on my lips, (definitely not as much as the fabric ones, but still) making for messy + uncomfortable sweaty breathing / humid mask cave. 

**if you are using these, please clip the earloops before tossing; they can tangle up in the legs of wildlife, among other places.

photo backstory: this was my overgrown-80’s miami-vice-jackie-chan hair after sheltering in place for 4.5 months, waiting in line to get a buzz at the 10 minute, $10 barbershop at the takadanobaba train station’s QB house. it’s a chain that salarymen go to for cheap and quick cuts. i had been denied service at another pricier barbershop, so i was stoked QBH was willing and able to see me. this was the day i learned that a 3 in the usa means buzzer guard #3, where in japan it means 3 millimeters.

this airinium mask has valves that let potentially infected droplets leak out, so no for covid but yes for smoke protection.

AIRINIUM
$69 in 2019, now $75. comes with 2 replacement filters, a back-of-the-head-strap and a carrying pouch. 

this was the fanciest one on the market most widely available before covid, that i got for smog and smoke protection. it does a great job of filtering both of those out (can’t hardly smell carcinogens or other stinky things like petrol exhaust with it on) BUT in terms of covid, the valves are a no-no. droplets can escape through the circle-shaped vents as the wearer exhales, potentially exposing those around you – so i’ve stopped wearing this one for now.

*for the west coast fire situation combined with covid, you might consider wearing this for smoke AND a surgical one on top to cover the valves for covid, or tape the valves shut with masking tape.

photo backstory: this was me at the sri lankan airport, trying to get to japan as covid was getting super serious. it was a very stressful + frustrating experience leaving, so this was my exasperated, sitting in the customs departure office “i’m ready to leave get me outta here asap arghhhhhh” look.

so cute! but the fabric was too thick (sweaty + hot) and laid on my lips, making for a soggy mess underneath. maybe ok for wintertime?

FABRIC MASKS
about $10-$15 for the mask, and $20-45 for the headwrap.

for the first 2-3 months while in japan, surgical masks were impossible to find, but cloth masks were plentiful online. i also hadn’t been able to get my head shaved so my hair needed to be covered up because it looked crazy.

so, i bought a super cute matching headwrap and mask set made of 100% cotton from a super cute italian + nigerian designer i met in singapore, named iffy. her shop is called olive ankara. (i also got another cute matchy-matchy set from obaaheema on etsy). this was a super stylish set up (and proceeds of olive ankara’s mask sales go to singaporean nonprofits).

in any case, this combo ultimately didn’t work for me because the fabric was too thick. the weather was way too hot and humid (averaging about 90-95F with humidity in the 80%’s) for the beautiful, hearty 100% woven cotton combined with my hot breath within the mask. it wasn’t breathable for me. i think it would have been ok in a climate that was either less hot or less humid or both, but for me in japanese hot + sticky spring/summer, it just didn’t work. 

also, the shape of this mask lay on my mouth.. so breathing within the mask AND dealing with the heat and humidity, i basically was suffocating. i tried wearing the mask with the plastic “cage” (more info below) which helped with the laying on the mouth / soaking wet fabric on my lips issue, but the fabric was still too hot and sweaty. 


THE AIR QUEEN
about $2-3.50 each, depending on how big of a box you buy.

there are many knockoffs, but the original comes from TOPOC co. in korea. they’re very fancy and very expensive. each mask individually packed, are made of durable yet tissue-thin, lightweight and 3-d contoured meant to fit perfectly around the nose + mouth. 

however, for me, the mask still sat on my lips, and moved around too much. i’m not sure if it was because my nose bridge is too low, my jawline isn’t big enough to hold it in place or the mask was just too big for my face. also, as i breathed i could feel air going in and out of the scallop-edged sides, which to me defeats the purpose of wearing a mask against infectious disease.

CONE SHAPED K95 MASKS
on amazon.co.jp, about $25 for a box of 20. 

ok so i’m still not 100% sure this is the equivalent to an N95 mask, but i think the k- means that it’s made in korea (?). 

it’s cone-shaped, which allows you to make unobstructed duck faces and doesn’t leave you as sweaty of a mess as the flat rectangular masks that have no structure. you can also wear lipstick and it won’t rub off onto the mask or all over your face (an actual marketing point in japanese ads).

however, they are still disposable and i really wanted to find something reusable and washable.

GATA MASK
$25, plus shipping (free with $50+ purchase). comes with 2 plastic “cages” and 10 kn95 filter cartridge pads.

this one i found scrolling on instagram, and had one sent to my mom so she could include it in the care package she was sending to me. it took about a week for it to get from southern california to san francisco.

it’s made of 3 parts – the silicone body, a non-woven filter pad/cartridge that sits inside, and a plastic “cage” piece that holds that filter in place. it’s also cup-shaped, so it doesn’t do that sweaty-laying-on-your-lips thing (and you can wear lipstick, haha). though it does get a bit sweaty right where the mask sits on the skin, the mesh silicone body and breathable filter pad design are pluses.

i could still smell things while wearing it though, so i’m not sure exactly how well it does to filter and protect from covid or fire smoke (i guess if it’s covid-safe you can still smell things and if it’s smoke-safe you can’t?), but the seal between the mask and my nose + mouth is the best out of all the masks i’ve tried. 

you can wash or boil the silicone mask to sanitize both the silicone mask and plastic cage.

photo backstory: this was at a wonderful, almost empty huge community osento (hot spring bathhouse) in shizuoka prefecture. spas like these in asia give you different outfits to wear in co-ed spaces, depending on what you’re doing and where you’re going. this was the outfit for receiving massages and facials. there was another outfit for co-ed heated sauna rooms, and you bathe in the same-sex baths nude.

other masks i haven’t tried but look cool


APLAT cotton face mask
$24

designed and made in san francisco, these come in many different colors, are beautiful in an origami-kinda way, are washable and because they contain no elastic or plastic, are fully biodegradable. they even include a pattern and instructions in case you want to DIY.


OUTDOOR RESEARCH
$20 for the mask and 3 filters

a good friend who’s done some extensive mask research says this one is his favorite, for its comfort, breathability, washability and the fact that it holds a filter!

my faves

were the last two i tried – the kn95 cone, and the gata mask. they both still rendered me a bit sweaty in humid and hot seasonal japan, but were the least sweaty and most breathable out of all the kinds i tried. i like that the gata is washable and reusable, even though the filter has to eventually be thrown out. however, the small filter is a smaller piece of trash to toss than conventional disposable masks.

in either case, i still got sweaty under my masks, so i carried a clean, small hand towel with me to wipe myself off when i needed to. (in japan this is customary, as folks carry these around to dry their hands off after washing in public bathrooms).

they were also priced pretty reasonably – especially if you reuse them a few times before replacing the replaceable parts.

mask cages

i eluded to these earlier in the post. there are these plastic “cages” you can insert under your mask to create a cone around your mouth, under any type of flat mask. unless you pin, glue or sew them in, they can fall out (nothing is perfect). i think you can find these on amazon, or maybe your local daiso?

ok! that wraps up the face mask fashion show, hope this guide was helpful. check out our next post on my top strategies to alleviate mask zits. 

let me know if you have questions, or ideas to share on what masks worked for you – and didn’t. i’d love to hear.

PLEASE STAY SAFE, healthy and sane.

xx
kim

the ins and outs of pcos and acne

pcos, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is complicated. it’s an endocrine condition that affects 8-20% of women of reproductive age worldwide1 and it is characterized by at least two of the following three symptoms: cysts on the ovaries, elevated male sex hormones and/or absent or irregular periods. pcos is a highly misunderstood condition whose symptoms manifest differently among women. many women with pcos gain weight while others have thin body types, some have acne and regular periods while other haven’t menstruated in months. because almost all women with pcos test high in androgens (male sex hormones), many symptoms include infertility, male-pattern hair loss, oily skin and acne along the jawline, and facial hair growth. these symptoms can be frustrating to deal with because they are persistent and can often make women feel like they have no control over their bodies. but these symptoms appear for a reason. and usually that reason is that our bodies are chronically stressed and something about our lifestyles needs to change. women with pcos are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism and cardiovascular disease, so acknowledging these signals from our bodies is key to keeping ourselves healthy for a lifetime. 

 

what causes pcos? 

  • genetics – while pcos is not a genetic condition, per se, predisposition to pcos can be passed down through generations. those who are exposed to higher androgens by their mothers while in the womb are also at greater risk of contracting pcos later in life.

  • stress – both physical and emotional stressors can contribute to pcos. some examples of physical stressors include over-exercising, eating foods you are intolerant to, not eating enough and constant blood sugar issues. many women who suffer from pcos are stressed to the max in their everyday lives – they take on extra work at their jobs, juggle familial responsibilities, endure harrowing breakups and family stress and then often criticize themselves for not working or trying hard enough.

  • blood sugar imbalances – this is one of the most common root causes of pcos and often stems from excessive intake of refined sugars and carbs, or the standard american diet. it often leads to weight gain and involves chronically elevated blood sugar. these blood sugar imbalances cause systemic inflammation in the body and directly influence the production of testosterone, which then inhibits ovulation and fertility.

  • over-exercising and under-eating – our society places a tremendous amount of pressure on women to look a certain way. many women internalize the pressure to be thin and spend years of their lives under-eating while engaging in excessive (usually cardio) exercise. high-intensity exercise always causes testosterone spikes, but they are usually temporary, subsiding when we refuel our bodies with calories. but when women exercise for too long without replenishing their energy stores, their hormone balance starts to suffer.

dealing with facial hair growth and acne

if you struggle with facial hair growth, you are not alone. this can be particularly frustrating if it accompanies hormonal acne – they often show up in exactly the same places along the jawline and chin. because of the cultural expectation that women maintain hairless faces, this type of hair growth can be embarrassing – but there is absolutely nothing wrong with you, there is no reason to feel shame, and there is no reason for you to change in order to appease the people in your life. having pcos is hard enough without having to navigate gendered cultural expectations.

if you are a client here at sS and you to decide to undergo laser hair removal or electrolysis, we just ask that you wait at least two weeks between those treatments and our acne face treatments – we don’t want to stress your skin out too much! if you have hair on your face that you want to remove by shaving, try the tinkle razor, which we sell in the clinic. these razors are more gentle than conventional razors. as for waxing, we don’t recommend it! the heat can be irritating to the skin and who knows what kinds of comedogenic ingredients are lurking in those waxes! 

if your doctor diagnoses you with pcos, they will most likely send you home with a prescription for one or both of two medications: metformin for insulin regulation and spironolactone for decreasing testosterone levels. it is entirely up to you whether you decide to take these medications or not, and whatever your decision, here are a few herbal, dietary and lifestyle changes to implement to keep pcos symptoms under control (and, as always, ask your doctor before making any major changes to your health plan):

  • two cups of spearmint tea each day has been shown to reduce free testosterone levels in women with pcos and has resulted in reduced hirsutism with none of the side effects of pharmaceutical-grade drugs.2 

  • 400mg of saw palmetto, a plant native to the americas, has been found to inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme. the inhibition of this enzyme helps reduce the conversion of testosterone to dht, which is the male sex hormone that leads to oily skin, hair loss, acne and facial hair growth.3

  • balance out your blood sugar by reducing your consumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates – ditch the morning cereals for eggs and greens; instead of a sandwich at lunch, try a salad with tuna or grilled chicken. and pasta for dinner? no way! zucchini noodles will do the trick. eat plenty of good fats and protein and aim for three square meals a day to get your blood sugar on track and to give your digestion a break.4 and supplementing with chromium picolinate has been shown to decrease insulin resistance in women with pcos.5

  • dial in your digestion. take a test to determine any foods you might not tolerate or try an elimination diet to get to the bottom of any digestive woes. this is hugely important because digestive distress is another physical stressor on the body that can ultimately contribute to elevated cortisol and testosterone levels. similarly, make sure your elimination is on track – we flush excess hormones out of the body through our stool, so eat your fiber!

  • practice stress management. this is absolutely huge. take up meditation, improve your time-management skills, see a therapist to work through emotional stress, start a gratitude journal – do what you can to reduce chronic stress in your life as this is often the root cause of pcos.

  • cut the coffee. this is a double whammy – not only does coffee contribute to acne, but it also elevates cortisol levels and contributes to systemic inflammation. instead, try green tea, which has a healing effect on the skin due to its high anti-oxidant polyphenol content.

  • ease up on the exercise. instead of intensive cardio like running or hiit several days a week, switch these out for yoga, walking or light swimming. this will give your adrenal glands a break and will allow your body to more readily recover from stress. 

  • sleep. give your body a chance to do its healing work by getting a solid eight hours of restful and uninterrupted sleep each night. try to make this a priority – this can have a huge impact on the health of our hormones!

  • find a support group near you to work through your emotions around pcos. it’s a tough condition to deal with so finding support in different areas of your life can be a huge relief. 

 further reference:

8 steps to reverse your pcos by fiona mcculloch

paleo for women

pcos diva

pcos awareness association

soul cysters

footnotes

1. sirmans, s. m., pate, k. a. (2014). epidemiology, diagnosis, and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. clinical epidemiology. 6, 1–13.

2. grant, p. & ramasamy, s. (2012) an update on plant derived anti-androgens. international journal of endocrinology metabolism. 2012 Spring; 10(2): 497–502.
3. hudson, t. (2008) polycystic ovarian syndrome (pcos). dec 8, 2008.
4. liepa, g.u., sengupta, a & karsies, d. (2008) polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos) and other androgen excess-related conditions: can changes in dietary intake make a difference? nutrition in clinical practice. 2008 Feb; 23(1):63-71.
5. rabinovitz, h., et al. (2004) effect of chromium supplementation on blood glucose and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus elderly patients. international journal for vitamin and nutrition research. 2004 May; 74(3):178-82.

product replacement alert: new face sunscreen!

ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! as kim mentioned in an earlier blog post, we are switching things up in the realms of serums and sunscreens. we are working with a new manufacturer that is more aligned with our values as a small business and along with a few other items, we have replaced our superlight spf15 moving forward with a new sunscreen.

we are thrilled to announce that we will now be stocking a face sunscreen from the miami-based company, beyond complexion, whose owner, olga valencia, worked closely with our beloved dr. fulton (the author of the acne bible, acne rx). olga has done extensive research on comedogenicity and has closely monitored the efficacy of her products for years through direct client interaction at her miami skin clinic.

beyond complexion’s daily facial moisturizer with spf30 is wonderfully lightweight and it offers more protection for longer periods of time while keeping your skin moisturized and healthy. it’s also perfect for helping prevent and reduce hyperpigmentation and redness. the combination of aloe and plant botanicals in this formula help nourish the skin while protecting it from uva and uvb rays. plus, it’s got double the spf of superlight, which means tons more protection!

as always, we’d love to hear your feedback! let us know what you think about the new beyond complexion sunscreen by emailing us at frontdesk@skinsalvationsf.com. thanks for your patience while we determine our next steps with our products!

how to be a happy acne-safe camper (plus tips for burning man)

so you wanna be an acne-safe camper, eh? you’ve come to the right place! camping season is well under way here in the bay area. with burning man just around the corner, it’s time for an updated guide to experiencing the wilderness in an acne-safe fashion. i just got back from a week-long camping and backpacking adventure in the glorious yosemite backcountry, where i didn’t let my acne-safe lifestyle ruin my fun. experiencing the bountiful nature that california has to offer is one of the many privileges of living in the bay area, but there’s no need to derail all of the hard work you’ve put into achieving clear skin just for a few days off the grid. here are some essential acne-safe camping tips from a pro backpacker!

camping in the summer heat is a perfect excuse to ice your face. it’s cool, it’s refreshing and once others see how much fun you’re having, they’ll want to join right in. since it’s not always practical to travel with your sS ice pop, we recommend bringing plenty of clean ziplock bags, putting fresh ice directly inside and then placing them in your cooler. when you’re ready to ice, pop out some clean ice cubes and go to town, inflammation be damned!

plan your meals. seriously. just do it. here is a sample meal plan from my last camping trip. planning your meals ahead of time ensures that you bring exactly enough food for the number of days you’ll be camping so you won’t go hungry and you won’t have an excuse to eat a ton of dairy and soy. bring acne-safe packaged foods that don’t need a ton of preparation – epic bars for protein, trail mix for good fat, hard boiled eggs, low-sugar fruit and cans of sardines (truly). and yes, you can enjoy some soy-free smores around the campfire at night, too.

greet the day with some fresh herbal or black tea. revel in your body’s chance to reset its circadian rhythms to match the cycles of the sun and moon.

bathe in the refreshing waters of nearby lakes and streams. this is a great way to reset if you’re feeling like your hygiene game is suffering. you can rinse away any dirt or dust and follow up your dip with a swipe of some sS hydrating toner and sunscreen.

and don’t forgot your product essentials. pick ’em up from the sS clinic before you begin your camping adventures:

  1. for sun protection, along with layers and a hat, we recommend amping up your spf by using sS safeguard spf40 for your face and goddess garden sunscreen for your body. their sport line is water resistant up to 80 minutes and is completely biodegradable so you can splash around in some cool alpine lakes with nary a worry. don’t forget to protect those luscious lips with our lip balm and reapply as needed. always seek shade when possible and get yourself a good pair of sunglasses.
  2. if you’ve been out hiking all day and anticipate sore muscles the next morning, pop a magnesium pill or two before bed. this will ease any bodily tension and help you sleep peacefully.
  3. if you’re worried about mosquitoes, grab some greener ways bug spray, an organic and safe alternative to deet and picaridin.
  4. if you won’t have access to clean water for bathing, bring along our hydrating or sterilizing toners and some toner pads to freshen up throughout the day. if you’re on the road and don’t have access to these products, yes to cucumbers face wipes will work in a pinch.
  5. feeling like your hair is melting into a colossal oil slick? bring along a homemade arrowroot starch dry shampoo in a small jar to apply as often as necessary. combine 1/4 cup arrowroot starch with 5 drops of essential oil of your choice (lavender, cedarwood, etc) and store in an airtight jar for the duration of your trip. for dark hair, combine 2 tablespoons arrowroot plus 2 tablespoons cacao powder with the essential oils. experiment and find what works for you!1

 

but what about burning man? the dusty environment of “la playa” is an entirely different ballpark from heading out onto the foggy, fragrant trails of marin with a few friends. so here are some burning man-specific tips and tricks to stay acne safe.

  1. stay hydrated internally and externally. bring at least a gallon of water per person per day and hydrate your skin frequently with sS hydrating cream to combat the dusty dry landscape. bring along some rosewater hydrosol and spritz your face all throughout the day. and don’t forget to ice your face!
  2. stay sun-safe. bring several hats – you don’t want to be caught in the desert without one! reapply safeguard spf40 sunscreen and sS lip balm often and bring some acne-safe aloe just in case you burn.
  3. deal with the dust. bring sunflower oil in a tiny jar to dab in your nostrils and to moisturize your feet at night – you can avoid “playa foot” by keeping all nooks and crannies of your skin moisturized constantly. wear gloves and goggles to avoid getting too dusty and dirty, and bring a few bandanas as protection when the wind picks up.
  4. stay clean. since you probably won’t have access to a shower (unless you have a very kind neighbor with a solar shower), bring an extra tub to fill with water for makeshift “showers” and foot baths. bring some sS hydrating toner with toner pads to freshen up throughout the day.
  5. plan out your meals ahead of time so you only bring what you need. bring snacks and food that need little preparation and pack your cooler full of acne-safe food so you aren’t tempted to snag a bite of your friend’s dairy-filled lunch.
  6. sleep well. if you’re a light sleeper, pack some ear plugs to drown out the rowdy campers. pack extra pillow cases to switch out over the course of the week and bring layers for the nighttime temperature drop
  7. most importantly, relax, enjoy the festivities, and have a good time! plan to come in for a treatment 7-10 days after you get back so your skin has a chance to heal from the sun exposure.

how do you enjoy nature while staying acne-safe? 

footnotes

1. dry shampoo recipe adapted from mommypotamus

acne-safe hand soap back in stock!

many of you have been awaiting our beloved aloe80 hand soap to return to the shop, and great news, it has arrived!

a few things to know:

  • it’s the same amazing formula from lily of the desert with new and improved packaging! you may not recognize it because the package used to say “aloe80”, now it just says “liquid soap”.

 

  • its aloe based so it won’t dry out your hands, (remember your hands and your neck tend to show signs of aging first!)
  • acne safe ingredients, so you don’t have to worry about cloggy residue transferring to your face or body after to clean your hands!
  • pick it up any day in the shop or our online store!

 

Emily long-time sS client turned front of house cutie showing off the new goods!