Maskne (AKA acne caused by wearing a mask) is real. As you’re out and about more, wearing masks that are critical to public health, you may have noticed more whiteheads or pimples or skin irritation popping up around your chin and mouth. So, what gives?
A mask, no matter the fabric, creates the perfect environment for skin bacteria to flourish. It’s warm and moist, and there’s very little air flow, which can lead to the blockage of hair follicles—and the rise of blackheads, whiteheads, painful pimples, and skin irritation.
Where the mask sits on your skin can also contribute to maskne. A repeated rubbing motion, especially for those who have sensitive skin, can lead to acne mechanica, a type of acne caused by repeated physical trauma or rubbing.
Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of breakouts (and no, it’s not skipping the mask—that’s helping to prevent other issues).
6 Tips to Prevent Acne From Wearing a Face Mask (Maskne)
1. If the Mask Fits…
A too-tight mask can drastically increase the amount of sweat and bacteria that proliferates on your skin. While we want a mask that’s secure enough to prevent respiratory droplets from getting out or in, masks that constrict too much can lead to skin irritation and acne. Healthcare and essential workers who are wearing masks for long periods of time are especially at risk.
But a too-loose mask can also rub the wrong way, and for people with especially sensitive skin, can contribute to irritation and acne as well. The solution? Choose a well-fitting mask with multiple layers of a breathable fabric like cotton.
2. Wash Your Face—Before AND After
Typically, we’d be in the camp of telling you not to over-wash your face, lest you mess too much with the pH balance of your skin and potentially contribute to irritation, dryness, and other skin ailments. But in the case of the mask, washing (even with a face wipe) before and after you wear your mask can help prevent buildup of skin, dirt, sweat, oil, and grime that could create a breeding ground for acne. Especially in the heat of the summer, a pre and post wash is key.
3. Skip the Makeup
If you’re using clean, nontoxic makeup, you should have less of a problem with it contributing to pore-clogging in general. But when you add a layer of any foundation under your mask, you’re also adding more elements that could get trapped in that hot, humid space—and entrapment is like a synonym for acne.
Try skipping the makeup, or if you feel you need a little bit of color, add it only to the areas of your face that aren’t covered by your mask to give your skin a little extra breathing room.
4. Consider Protection
Healthcare workers have taken to applying a protective barrier to their skin before masking up. This physical barrier can help prevent rubbing and irritation, as well as keep pores clear. You can try something as accessible as a Band-Aid, or you can lather on a thick moisturizer or skin balm (one that’s sans petroleum, please! A beeswax base works nicely) before applying your mask. Just make sure to wash all that off when you also peel away your mask.
5. Treat + Soothe Your Skin Between Wearings
If you’re noticing an increase in maskne, make sure you’re treating and soothing your skin between mask wearings. Products with light and gentle exfoliants, to help encourage skin cell turnover, are great—look for treatments with salicylic acid (or willow bark), or tea tree oil, which can help reduce the amount of bacteria that grows.
If you’re noticing dry spots or irritation, treat with a product with hyaluronic acid or a balm with blue tansy.
But, most importantly? DO NOT PICK. It’s rule 101 for acne sufferers, but picking at your blemishes or toying with your redness will only help the bacteria spread. Keep your hands off your face as much as possible.
6. Wash Your Mask
We shouldn’t even have to say it, it feels so obvious. But we will—wash your mask in between wearings. The CDC recommends that any day you wear it, you wash it. Run it through the washer with hot water and detergent or a bit of white vinegar, and dry it on high heat to help rid it of any lingering bacteria.
Still struggling with skin issues, mask or not? We can help. Nurse Practitioner Jenikka Tomashek specializes in dermatological issues, and can help identify if your skin issues could be connected to something bigger. Give us a shout if you’re interested in learning more.
Dr. Cassie Wilder is a registered Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) and founder of MIMC. Her passion is empowering her patients through education, understanding, and support through their healing journey. After graduating from Iowa State University with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Health, Dr. Wilder earned her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences, a fully accredited and nationally recognized institution in Phoenix, AZ. During her clinical training, she received extensive hands-on training with many leading experts in the field of functional medicine and developed a passion for treating hormonal imbalances, thyroid disorders, cardiovascular concerns, and adrenal fatigue.