Wearing a mask has officially become our normal, and that little tray of masks you keep at your entryway probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I can’t even predict a time when hearing “face mask” won’t make me think of a piece of cloth with a few strings instead of my beloved skincare stash. Now that we’ve accepted our fate, it’s time to tackle the one thing we’ve put off: getting a handle on our maskne, the acne and irritation you get from wearing a cloth face mask for long periods of time.
Many people are still dealing with maskne, especially after wearing masks for long workdays, while working out, and on airplanes. We asked a slew of experts for an explanation on why our skin breaks out from masks, how to treat current breakouts, and how to prevent them in the future.
What Is Maskne and Why Are We Getting It?
Whether you’ve dealt with acne your entire life or just get the occasional zit during your menstrual cycle, getting acne from your mask can confuse you. “When you’re wearing a mask for prolonged periods of time and breathing into that mask, humidity and sweat combined with the friction of the mask rubbing on your face can lead to clogged pores and breakouts,” said Dr. Alan J. Parks, board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermWarehouse.
Even if you don’t get breakouts, wearing a face mask over and over can cause lots of inflammation and irritation, according to Dr. Tina Alster, MD, FAAD, creator and co-founder of The A Method. “The long-term use of the mask holds in bacteria, sweat, and moisture, causing the bacterial organisms to overgrow, resulting in inflammation and breakouts.”
Along with the physical face mask, the mental health impacts of the last 18 months are enough to cause anyone to break out. “[Maskne] is also a result of the stress and anxiety we are experiencing right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our bodies can internalize these things, and we can break out from it all,” said Leah Chavie, esthetician and owner at Leah Chavie Skincare Boutique in Chicago and Anna Maria Island, adding that diet and sleep patterns can have an effect on your skin too.
How to Treat It
When you’re experiencing a breakout, Dr. Parks recommended being gentle with your skin. “Use a gentle cleanser and don’t go overboard with your products,” Dr. Parks added. Avoid the urge to use every product in your cabinets and keep your routine simple. “Try using an acne treatment under your mask or spraying the mask with an acne mist with salicylic acid.”
If you can, Chavie suggested skipping makeup. Not only will this help prevent breakouts from happening in the future, but it will also reduce the irritation and inflammation you might get from wearing it over existing breakouts. When sweat and makeup build up under the mask, the friction might cause your breakout to get even more irritated.
What Ingredients to Look For
Dr. Parks recommended looking for products with salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur to treat and prevent breakouts. Chavie also recommended using products with aloe to reduce the inflammation and redness you might experience with maskne.
How to Prevent It
Once you have your maskne under control, you can put some systems in place to keep it at bay in the future. First and foremost, washing and replacing your mask regularly is a must. Keep a few masks on hand so that you can swap them out while others are in the wash. Dr. Parks also suggested cleansing your skin before and after wearing a mask for a prolonged amount of time. Chavie recommended opting for a cotton or silk mask that’s gentle and soft on skin and using a fragrance-free detergent to wash.
Dr. James Beckman, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon, biochemist, and adjunct associate clinical professor-dermatology department at UAMS (Arkansas Medical School), explained the importance of keeping your natural moisture barrier intact as much as possible, as over-washing your face can strip your skin. Keeping your skin hydrated will help reduce the extra friction and keep maskne at bay. Make sure that these products are non-comedogenic and aren’t so heavy that they’re clogging pores.
According to Dr. Beckman, you should also let your skin breathe for about five minutes every hour you’re wearing your mask. This gives your skin “rest and prevents bacterial invasion and skin maceration or irritation.”
What Products to Try
Dr. Parks recommended this cleanser if you're struggling with maskne over time (or if you just have acne-prone skin in general). It's one of the top dermatologist-recommended cleansers for acne because it contains a little salicylic acid and doesn't strip or dry out your skin.
Incorporate an acne-fighter like Differin in your routine if you're noticing consistent breakouts. Made of adapalene, a lighter form of retinol, this gel clears current breakouts, prevents new ones from forming, and improves skin tone and texture.
Dr. Parks suggested this gel as both an all-over treatment for oily, acneic skin or as a spot treatment for dry skin. Made with 2 percent salicylic acid and mandelic acid, this gel unclogs pores and reduces the size and redness of existing pimples. You can apply this under your mask to protect existing acne from becoming more inflamed.
If you're finding your skin is irritated, red, itchy, or inflamed after wearing a mask, slather on a liberal layer of Like Butter to your skin before putting your mask on. You can also wear this as an overnight mask a few nights a week to help relieve any irritation.
This lightweight sunscreen was made with acne-prone skin in mind, as it's completely clear with no white cast and is suitable for sensitive skin types that break out from sunscreens. If you're feeling like your SPF feels greasy or heavy under your mask, opt for this.
Spray this toner on your skin before putting on a mask to both relieve stubborn maskne you're struggling with and prevent more from popping up in the future.
Made with tea tree oil, this cleansing mist is ideal for keeping in your bag (especially for the gym). Mist it on your skin or even straight into your mask whenever you're feeling a little sweaty.
Dr. Alster recommended this kit as the “perfect comprehensive solution to managing blemishes and areas of breakouts associated with mask-induced acne,” thanks to a glycolic gel cleanser, blemish pads, and a probiotic moisturizer that kills the bad bacteria and leaves the good for healthy, glowing skin.