Masking my maskne

Here I am punching the air having made it though another week of this game ‘Covid-World Challenge’ that we now play in school. I adapt to double lessons and perfect my ‘shake ‘n’ vac classroom management to incorporate ‘han san’ on arrival/exit and child labour to sterilise desks. I find time to co-ordinate my impressive wardrobe of face coverings with jacket and shoes although this has played havoc with my punctuality. I make the claim – boldly – that I am Covid-compliant and Ofsted-friendly (although I think the latter may be an oxymoron).

In many ways it reminds me of my teacher training year. Back in the day, one of my lecturers advocated that all students should experience long lessons, ‘allow their creativity, to unfurl,’ she said as she packed away her slate and chalk. My personal tutor advised that any new teacher should take control of their classroom from the outset, ‘buy a bucket, a pair of Marigolds and a bottle of bleach and you will never be hostage to classroom graffiti’, he opined. (I never returned to tell him that in my experience teaching is a relentless fight against the wave of hand-drawn, cartoon genitalia that appear miraculously – along with old chewing gum – on desks and chairs at the end of each lesson. Even if your teacher radar is on red alert these wicked willies continue to appear. Ahead of school events, my best advice to teachers is to check chairs before allowing parents to sit down; I say this after experiencing a mother’s appalled exclamation before a Year 11 parent evening appointment, ‘There is a willy on this chair, kindly remove it please!’. I digress.

The last two weeks of school life have led me to conclude that I fare better in a face mask than I do in a visor – although the latter is see-through, Ms Menopause seems to steam the visor up and unwittingly create a portable face spa which is not totally appropriate when on gate duty. (I am happy to speak to any designer looking to guinea pig the prototype of a visor de-mister – or even clip on wind screen wipers. DM me).

Anyway, an unseasonably hot week has seen me regularly overheating and my mask wardrobe has started to wilt. If I wear the school-issue navy blue mask it sometimes feels as if I am wearing a pair of old gym knickers over my face and strangely it makes my nose start to drip (clearly, counter-productive). I look with envy at school visitors who arrive in cotton, paisley print masks. I pop over to the Textiles Department to see if they can rustle up some breathable linen face coverings but they are so busy constructing PPE on their 3D printer that they won’t even look up to see me perspire.

I message my Favourite Daughter (FD) to see how she is getting on in her London school where teachers are moving from class to class while the students are locked down in the same class room all day. ‘My step count is great,’ she says, ‘but I have the look of a sweaty egg’. She is a fellow English teacher so we exchange a few, ‘better than being fried or poached,’ hilarious comments before getting on to the topic of skin care.

My niece joins our mask lamentations on our WhatsApp group. As a nurse who has worn space-age PPE through night shifts since March, she is patient about FD and I joining this masked ball so late. ‘I’m sweaty and gross,’ she says (she’s lying), ‘by comparison you two must look glowing’. I retort, ‘the only thing my mask is good for (apart from protecting me from Covid, of course) is hiding my pimply chin’.

It transpires that I have hit the jack pot in conversational terms. It is a good job that we are conversing on WhatsApp because both daughter and niece wouldn’t be able to hear much of what I am saying from behind my new army surplus mask (I mistakenly thought this might be even more hard wearing than the gym knicker standard issue). I am grateful for the opportunity to get my views across without having to use my eye brows as punctuation.

‘I am approaching 60, ‘ I vent, ‘and here I am battling mask- induced skin outbreaks’. ‘Ah, you mean ‘maskne’, they both message back at once and I don’t know whether to get excited about the latest covid-related morphology of the English Language, or to cut straight to the chase for their top tips for preventing an outbreak of plague and pestilence along my beard line.

I tune in to GMTV to hear the goddess Caroline Hirons offer her skincare advice on this subject- what is good enough for Holly and Phil is certainly good enough for me. Firstly Caroline correctly points out that ‘maskne’ is just cute journalese that basically means, “your mask has made you a bit spotty,” thus deflating high hopes from the beauty industry for freak mania- induced sales. For those who have ever suffered with real acne, this distant relative is clearly not a contender. So, if we can accept that my personal vanity and mental health is the cause of my latest angst – rather than the issue of maskne itself – then perhaps I can move on without causing offence. Let us accept – again – that I am a shallow person.

My issue seems to be compounded by what I believe to be a boil that has broken out on my chin. In reality I feel that this may be a bite from a flying critter hovering over our boot camp session earlier in the week, but as I am blogging about pimples, please humour me as I exaggerate and catastrophise about the impact of mask wearing.

The spot/boil/pimple/bite (dependent on my Covid mood) is certainly very itchy and I feel a compulsion to turn into Kevina the Teenager and have a little prod around. My older self reasons against this and instead, I take to full time mask wearing; I discover that this is a genius way of hiding the growing Vesuvius erupting on my chin. I am impressed at my pragmatic approach to my current spotty outbreak, and marvel that by wearing a mask I can also eliminate all concerns about my menopausal facial hair. I start to write a list about the other advantages of mask wearing.

Masks allow me to:

Save money on buying lipstick
Stop feeling that I must smile at everybody even when I feel miserable
Eat more garlic/onions
Free myself from the fear of having spinach on my teeth
Hide my enormous nose
Dramatically cut down on the amount of foundation and blusher that I am wearing (although this can turn into a game of two halves on mask removal).
Add another accessorised dimension to the game of ‘matchy matchy’ that I like to play with underwear, handbag and shoes.


Reassured, I speak to a friend who has turned her front room into a mask-making factory. I share with her my dilemmas about overheating, acne and my glasses steaming up. ‘You are missing a gusset,’ she informs me. ‘I am designing a prototype mask for us ladies of mature years; extra vents for air circulation, a nose clip to prevent glass steamage and an antibacterial insert to keep the skin clean’.

Great idea but she lost me as soon as she used the word ‘gusset’.

I am back watching Caroline Hirons. She recommends a silk mask – much softer on the skin and comes in a range of tonal hues. I wonder whether if I wear this mask while sleeping on my cooling menopausal pillow, I will awake cool, spot and wrinkle-free.

As the weekend draws to a close, I am now contemplating sourcing a full face mask, a balaclava or at least an eye mask and mouth/nose covering for it has become a little tedious having to think about eye make-up now that I have ditched lower face ‘assistance’. The ‘boil/pimple’ on my chin has subsided a little, but I think I may pop back to our Textiles Department tomorrow to see if they can run me up a vented, nose-clipped mask from a recycled mosquito net; I am hopeful of getting to boot camp this week before Boris locks us up again, after all.

If we get totally locked down and I don’t need to face students for a while, I may just revert to wearing a full face pack around the house at all times – or that sneaky nose bag snaffle that I used at the start of full lockdown to make my Covid snacks fully portable. I sound confident about my new approach to middle age mask shrouding, but I had better just check back in with my stylists – FD and Niece – they may feel that a brown paper bag will be the ethical way to go.

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