For many people, face masks are a normal part of our lives as we fight the spread of COVID-19. Wearing masks for extended periods of time can cause skin to rebel – leaving you with red, irritated skin and acne breakouts. The truth is most facial skin isn’t accustomed to mask wearing. Sara Moeller, PA – C with UnityPoint Health, explains mask acne – or maskne – and five ways to treat maskne from home.
What Causes Maskne?
Some signs your skin isn’t handling mask wearing well is redness, rashes or new or increased acne breakouts in the area under the mask. The acne caused by face masks, especially cloth, medical or N95 masks, has become known as “maskne.” This type of acne can include blackheads, whiteheads, pimples or cysts. While the term is new, the condition is very familiar to dermatology experts.
“Maskne is similar to when football players get acne breakouts in the area where the chin strap rubs,” Moeller says. “Masks stop moisture from being released – so moisture from breathing is trapped in the mask. This can cause sweat and normal skin oils to build up on your skin and clog the pores, which leads to acne.”
Who is Most at Risk of Developing Maskne?
Moeller says anyone can develop maskne, but she says people who already experience acne or who have oily, acne-prone skin are more at risk. While some people have oily skin, a hormonal change can also contribute to making skin oilier – including puberty, pregnancy and/or menopause.
You’re also more likely to experience acne if you often wear masks for longer periods of time. For most people – longer than an hour or so could start to cause skin irritation.
What is the Best Fabric for Face Masks?
Breathable fabric, such as cotton, is best for people with skin that is sensitive to masks. Cotton is a natural substance that absorbs moisture, rather than repelling it. The weave of the fabric also lets air circulate better than other cloth materials. It’s best to avoid synthetic fibers, like polyester.
“Cotton-based face masks tend to work better because they are softer, creating less friction and irritation to the skin than disposable masks. The breathability helps reduce the moisture trapped in the mask and reduces the risk of maskne,” Moeller says.
5 Tips to Prevent Maskne from a Dermatology Expert
- Wash Reusable Masks. Toss masks into the washing machine after each use to remove any makeup or bacteria that can build up and lead to breakouts. Fragrance free detergents are best – such as All® Free and Clear or Tide® Free and Gentle. Avoid using fabric softeners.
- Wash Your Face. After removing your mask, wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Moeller recommends Cetaphil® or CeraVe® cleaners. If you are having acne breakouts, try a face wash with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide ingredients.
- Apply Moisturizer. People with acne prone skin should use oil-free moisturizers after washing. If you aren’t experiencing acne from your mask but are experiencing sores, redness or peeling – use clean hands to apply moisturizer both before putting on your mask and after removing it.
- Avoid Over-Exfoliating. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from your face. Excessive use of exfoliating products, including face washes, face masks or other skin removal tools, can lead to irritation and could make acne worse. Each person’s skin tolerates exfoliation differently, but in general, one-to-two times per week is enough.
- Avoid Touching Your Face. Every time you touch your face, you transfer oils (and germs) to your skin. Also, try avoiding the urge to pop your pimples, as it can lead to scarring.
When Should I See a Provider Due to Maskne or Irritation?
If you try all five tips and don’t see any improvement in two weeks, or symptoms get worse, consider making an appointment with your care team. Moeller says wearing a mask can also cause underlying skin conditions to flare up, including rosacea or eczema. If you notice any of these conditions resurface, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor.