Wearing a mask is a great way to protect yourself from the coronavirus. However, wearing one every day can lead to skin breakouts. As mask mandates return, mask acne (maskne) is becoming a big concern for many people. This article will provide ways to treat and prevent this unfortunate side effect of the pandemic.
What is mask acne?
Mask acne, also known as "maskne," is a skin condition caused by prolonged mask-wearing. Symptoms can include:
- Bumps or pimples
The skin around the chin and mouth is delicate and prone to the development of skin conditions. Mask acne can occur when skin pores get clogged with oils, makeup, dirt, or dead skin cells. The result is pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads.
Prolonged mask-wearing can also cause other common skin conditions:
- Contact dermatitis: This condition can occur when skin gets exposed to irritants such as chemicals or certain fabrics. The chemicals used to make the masks may be irritating to some people.
- Folliculitis: Folliculitis is a skin condition caused by bacteria or fungi. The hair follicles become infected and appear red and irritated.
- Rosacea: Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that is often mistaken for acne. It makes the skin look red, flushed, and irritated. The cheeks are often affected, which can make it look like you are blushing. Heat buildup under a mask can lead to rosacea flare-ups.
What causes mask acne?
The warm, moist area underneath your mask is the perfect environment to breed the bacteria that cause acne. Pores clogged by oils, makeup, dirt, and dead skin can become irritated. Moisture can get trapped under the mask, which can make things worse.
Friction caused by a mask rubbing against the skin can also irritate. A mask that is too tight can also dig into the skin.
Your choice of a mask can increase or decrease your risk of developing a skin condition. Surgical and N95 masks provide the highest amount of protection from viruses, but they can be tougher on your skin because they reduce the amount of air circulation around your face.
Cloth masks are made of several layers of 100% cotton and are best for air circulation but provide less protection. These masks can get worn in areas where less protection is needed or if your skin cannot tolerate the other types.
How can I prevent and treat mask acne?
Your skin can become more sensitive while wearing a mask, but it’s possible to prevent and treat mask acne. Developing a skincare regimen early will help with both prevention and treatment.
How to prevent the irritation that can lead to mask acne
- Wear a properly fitting mask: Be sure to wear your mask correctly. Cover your mouth and nose with a mask that fits well against the face. A mask that is too tight or loose can irritate.
- Wear masks that are 100% cotton: Cotton allows air to pass through the mask more freely. Be sure to wear cotton masks that have more than one layer. More layers mean better protection.
- Wash your mask every day: Cloth masks should get worn once and then washed. Use a gentle, fragrance-free laundry soap. Avoid using fabric softener because it can also lead to skin irritation. Rinse your mask thoroughly, and then place it in the dryer.
- Don’t skip the moisturizer: Apply a lightweight, water-based moisturizer right after you cleanse your face. That will help keep your skin’s outer protective layer properly hydrated. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin during your daily activities.
- Wear surgical masks only once: Surgical masks are designed to get worn only once. If washed, they lose their germ-resistant properties. During the day, try to take it off for 15 minutes every 4 hours. That will allow moisture to evaporate and air to move freely across the skin.
How to treat mask acne
- Apply ice: Ice can reduce inflammation and calm irritated skin. Place an ice cube or ice pack in a washcloth or towel. Apply for one minute, stop for five minutes, and then apply for another minute.
- Wash your face often: Washing your face plays a role in treating and preventing mask acne. Use lukewarm water and gently cleanse twice a day. Wash once in the morning and once at night—more frequently if you sweat heavily. Apply a lightweight moisturizer immediately after cleansing.
- Avoid wearing makeup: Wearing makeup under your mask can cause your pores to become clogged. Continuing to wear makeup can make it harder for you to treat mask acne and may even make things worse. If you decide to wear makeup, choose gentle, lightweight products that will not block your pores.
- Apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream: Hydrocortisone cream can help reduce inflammation and decrease redness. It can also help relieve itching. Be sure to use a cream formulated for the face, and avoid contact with your eyes.
- Use spot treatments: Certain acne treatments are designed to get used on focused areas of the face. Spot treatments that contain zinc, salicylic acid, or 5% benzoyl peroxide are best. They help to reduce the number of bacteria on your skin. Remember to use them sparingly because they can be drying.
When should I call a doctor?
If you think that your acne is getting worse even with treatment at home, it may be time to get an evaluation by a dermatologist. It's especially important to look out for signs of infection, such as pus or bleeding, or worsening skin rashes that appear to be spreading.
In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medication for you. If cost is a barrier, consider comparing prices with ScriptSave® WellRx. We can help you search nearby pharmacies quickly and easily.
Alyse Thompson, M.D., is a freelance medical writer who has experience caring for patients in both primary care and urgent care settings. She also has a master’s degree in basic medical science. She has managed acute and chronic diseases and has taken part in medical and pharmaceutical research. Dr. Thompson’s focus has been on surgery, general medicine, weight loss, infectious disease, medical devices, pharmaceutical research, and medical apps.