Wearing a mask may help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but for some people it also creates a new problem: mask-related acne, also known as “maskne.”
Masks can trap bacteria, sweat and dead skin cells that can block pores and cause irritation. As you might expect, maskne develops on the lower cheeks and chin and can range from acne-like bumps and blemishes to itchy rashes and dry, flaky skin. Some people may even be allergic to the materials in their mask.
You may not be able to avoid wearing a mask, but you can take steps to protect your skin and help prevent irritation and breakouts. Erik Gilbertson, MD, a dermatologist at Scripps Clinic Rancho San Diego, shares these tips to keep skin clear and healthy:
Wash your face with warm (not hot) water and a mild cleanser. Massage your skin gently and avoid scrubbing. If you wear your mask for more than several hours at a time, clean your cheeks and chin when you remove it. One convenient option is to use packaged facial cleansing wipes that you can take with you, but make sure they are designed for facial use and don’t contain antibacterial sanitizers or other chemicals.
If you have a beard or other facial hair, a mask can create a warm, moist environment that invites bacteria. Keep the area clean and dry, or consider shaving if you have to wear a mask most of the time.
Use a moisturizer after your wash your face to help keep skin hydrated and ward off dryness. Choose a moisturizer developed for your skin type. Oily skin often benefits most from a light moisturizer, while drier skin does better with lotions or creams. Avoid ingredients that can block pores, along with fragrances that may irritate skin.
Along with moisturizing your skin, keep your lips from chapping by applying petroleum jelly or a hydrating lip balm.
Placing a mask over foundation, powder or other makeup can block air circulation and increase the risk of irritation. Foregoing makeup makes it easier for your skin to breathe.
Abrasive cleansers, fruit acids and anti-aging products, such as retinol creams, can make skin more sensitive. If you’re having mask-related problems, consider reducing your use of these products.
If you can do so safely, remove your mask for 15 minutes every few hours to air out your skin. Ideally, take your mask breaks outdoors and maintain a safe social distance.
Masks made of natural and breathable materials, such as cotton, are best as synthetic fabrics can irritate skin. Avoid wearing neck gaiters and masks with small plastic valves embedded in the front as they may be putting others at risk.
Your mask should fit snugly but comfortably over your nose, cheeks and chin, with no gaps on the sides. Avoid masks that are too tight or rub against your skin. Masks with ties rather than ear loops offer a more adjustable fit.
Wash your cloth masks often to remove dirt, oil and bacteria. You can wash masks by hand or toss them in with your laundry. Use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap or laundry detergent, and rinse well. Air dry. Do not wash or reuse disposable masks.
“If you take these steps and still develop a rash, acne or other irritation that does not improve, it’s time to call your doctor, especially if you wear a mask as part of your job,” says Dr. Gilbertson. “All Scripps physicians are taking precautions to protect patients from COVID, so it’s safe to go in for care.”