How to Deal with Mask Acne

TL;DR

You grab your mask along with your keys and your wallet these days every time you leave the house. But one of these things is not like the others. Your keys never gave you chin acne. 

The bottom line is that masks are helping us prevent the spread of deadly infectious disease. You can’t put yours away just yet, even if you experience clogged pores. Trust us, you won’t like what the hospital does to your skin, either. But masks are increasing the number of irritating skin issues in some people. Are you one of them?


The good news is you can continue to wear your face mask and prevent skin irritation, outbreaks, and the other skin issues you’ve been noticing. Let’s break down what causes mask acne (aka maskne), how it creates stressed skin, and what skincare treatments are available to help.

What is maskne?

Maskne happens when you wear a facial protective covering for long periods of time. More formally, it’s called acne mechanica. We call it annoying. Wearing a mask every day also commonly causes periorificial dermatitis (a red rash around your mouth which perplexes doctors) and irritant contact dermatitis (a rash caused by friction or an allergic reaction).

Why does maskne happen? Between the heat your breath generates, your mask rubbing your skin, the moisture that builds up, and everything else that has touched your mask (including dirty hands) — your skin doesn’t stand much of a chance. 

The bottom line is that your mask creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. While you can’t do much about creating heat and moisture under your mask, you can treat your skin and care for your mask to avoid long-term issues.

How to treat common maskne skin problems

Alright, let’s get down to business. You’ve been wearing your mask for eleventy months (an undetermined amount of time that feels like an eternity) and you’re noticing some serious maskne. 

Here are some of the best skin clearing treatment options to regain control of your skin care. 

1. Wash Your Face Twice Daily 

Now is not the time to fall asleep without washing your face. Be vigilant, wash your face at least twice a day with a fragrance-free cleanser. If you’re wearing your mask for an extended period of time, such as at work, wash your face as soon as you take it off as well. 

2. Moisturize Often

You’ll want to moisturize your face immediately after washing, every time. Use a moisturizer with either ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or dimethicone. You may also want to apply moisturizer immediately after taking off a mask if you notice that your face covering is leading to cracked skin or other symptoms of dryness. 

3. Reduce Your Exfoliation Routine

This might not be the time to go in hard with a harsh exfoliator. Your skin is going through enough right now. Switch to a cleanser with salicylic acid instead, if you notice your regular cleanser isn’t getting the job done and still want a light exfoliant in your routine. A light exfoliant can clean away dead skin cells. 

4. Pause Using Retinoids

If you’re using retinoids (which are already prone to causing irritation), you may want to talk to your doctor about the benefits of taking a break. This is especially true if you just started using a product with retinoids and your skin isn’t used to it yet. 

5. Don’t Forget Your Kisser

Along with skin acne, dryness could cause serious chapping and splitting on your lips. Use petroleum jelly before you put on your mask and before you go to bed. 

How to prevent mask-related skin issues

Now that you’ve gotten your clear skin game back on track, what can you do to avoid future breakouts? In addition to the regimen suggested above, you can change a few habits that make a big difference. 

Follow these guidelines to prevent maskne and other skin irritation while you’re wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on your face. 

1. Wear a Mask That Fits

A snug fit is key to keeping yourself safe in a mask. But you don’t want your mask to be so tight that it irritates your skin. A multi-layer cotton or bamboo mask (or a similar natural material) that sits against your skin without rubbing it is ideal for daily use if you don’t have access to a medical-grade option. Remember that a well fitting N95 mask remains the best option for preventing disease spread — and should also fit properly for maximum benefit.  

2. Take Periodic, Safe Mask Breaks

Every four hours or so that you wear a mask, it’s good to find a safe outdoor space where you can let your skin breathe for 15 minutes. Remember to stay at least six feet from others. If you can clean and moisturize your face in a private bathroom, even better. 

3. Wash Cloth Masks Often

For people that wear cloth masks, a regular washing routine is key. Rotate your masks often and wash them in a gentle laundry detergent. As with your skin soap, sticking with a non-fragrance soap is better because it limits the chances of serious irritation. 

4. Avoid Make-Up 

You love your glam, but your masked up face might not. Avoid wearing make-up as much as possible to avoid clogging your pores and increasing your chances for maskne. If you must wear a little something, avoid comedogenic products to keep blackheads at bay, and play with eye makeup. As a matter of fact, eye makeup sales across the country are up by 4X, but lipstick sales are dropping. Stay on trend and work those lashes!   

5. Try a High-Quality Skincare Box

Products curated by a skincare expert can help you find better solutions without having to leave your house. From cleansers to toners to moisturizers, doctor-selected products can help all skin types avoid serious breakouts caused by masks.

When to call a dermatologist

There are a few times when it makes sense to call your doctor. If you try a new routine for a few weeks and see no results, are in pain, or notice serious redness and/or pus, you should make an appointment. 

Regular breakouts can probably be handled at home, but anything more serious could use a professional look. Many dermatologists are offering virtual appointments. Thanks to your webcam or smartphone camera, your doctor can get a good look at what your maskne is doing to your skin without seeing you in person.

TL;DR

Maskne is common when you’re wearing a mask every day, so you’re not alone. Washing your face at least twice daily; using a moisturizer with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or dimethicone; and avoiding make-up and aftershave under a mask can help heal your skin. Talk to a doctor if you notice severe redness, pus, or are currently using a retinoid to treat your skin. And make sure you wash your dang cloth mask!

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