Wearing a mask is essential to protect ourselves and others from the COVID-19 virus, but some people may develop what is being referred to as "maskne" from wearing a mask.
"Although maskne is a frustrating skin issue, it is far less troubling and impactful than contracting or spreading coronavirus," states Katie Blomgren, PA-C, a dermatology provider at McFarland Clinic. "However there are steps we can take to help prevent or reduce the risk of developing mask-induced acne."
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What causes maskne?
Maskne, a new term to add to our vocabulary during the COVID-19 pandemic, is mask induced acne that develops after wearing a facial mask or covering. The causes of maskne can include sensitive skin, moisture, and heat.
"There is no question that the benefits of mask-wearing outweigh the issue of mask induced acne," states Blomgren.
Acne Mechanica is one type of mask induced acne that results in skin irritation and inflammation. This is caused by the mask rubbing against or touching the skin.
"Additionally, there is the component of the mask trapping moisture and increased sweating, which can lead to the overgrowth of bacteria and yeast that are normally found on the skin," says Blomgren. "All of these components can result in red papules, pustules, or even acne cysts."
How to prevent and treat mask acne
There are some initial steps to take to help prevent or reduce the chances of developing maskne. Focus on keeping your face clean.
Avoid touching your face.
Use a gentle, ideally soap-free, cleanser.
Keep your face moisturized and avoid dryness.
Blomgren adds, "dry skin is already irritated, and wearing a mask can exacerbate that. Use a gentle moisturizer to help with dryness."
To help prevent and treat maskne, focus on gentle cleansing and minimal product use.
“I think the tendency can be to start heaping on over-the-counter acne products or even over-utilizing prescriptions like topical retinoids,” states Blomgren. "However, these can actually increase the irritation."
Blomgren recommends skipping makeup if possible if your skin is prone to acne to help prevent and even help treat maskne. Makeup has a greater chance to clog pores with higher humidity and moisture. Skip any makeup or cosmetic applications to cover maskne as that can help to reduce further clogging pores.
"Maskne was not something we were dealing with a year ago so we are all learning how to manage," adds Blomgren.
Quick tips to help prevent maskne
Keep your face clean and moisturized by utilizing gentle skincare cleansers and non-comedogenic moisturizers.
Keep your mask clean by washing it daily.
Choose the right kind of mask. If using a cloth mask, choose one that is made of at least two layers of cotton and provides a snug comfortable fit. Avoid synthetic fabrics, at least on the inside layer of your mask.
If or when you are in a safe position to remove your mask without exposing yourself or others, allow your skin a break of about 15 minutes every four hours.
"If using a cloth mask, wash it in a detergent that is free and clear, free of fragrances and clear of dyes," says Blomgren. "I would not recommend using fabric softener or dryer sheets, even if they are free and clear dryer sheets."
More tips to prevent face mask skin problems can be found here from the American Academy of Dermatology.
When to see a doctor about mask-related acne
"Not everything that appears to be maskne is truly acne," says Blomgren. "Perioral dermatitis, contact dermatitis, or rosacea can be exacerbated by masks or can mimic mask induced acne."
If red, tender bumps appear with itching, it could be contact dermatitis. Perioral dermatitis, common in women, tends to start around the corners of the nose and could look like acne and eczema.
"If the acne is not confined to where the mask is positioned on the face, it is potentially something else such as rosacea, which could be exacerbated by wearing a mask," says Blomgren.
If facial lesions are itchy or accompanied by lesions that extend outside of your mask, consider checking with your healthcare provider to see if you need additional help.
Consider seeing a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms or feelings:
Sticky, yellow crust, which could be a sign of a secondary infection.
Tender, painful lesions, or scarring develops.
If acne is affecting your self-confidence or sense of well-being.