Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, masks are now part of our daily attire. Masks provide vital protection from the novel coronavirus, but they can also cause uncomfortable irritation, clogged pores, and acne.

If you are experiencing acne breakouts, pimples, zits, and skin irritation on your face caused by masks, you are not alone. The medical term for this condition is “acne mechanica,” but most people call it “maskne.”

Healthcare workers and other “front-line” workers are most vulnerable because they usually wear tighter-fitting masks for much longer than most other people.

Since masks are essential for health and safety right now, it’s impossible to avoid “maskne” by eliminating the cause. Still, there are some things you can do to prevent and treat it.

Why do masks cause acne and skin irritation?

“Acne mechanica” usually affects healthcare workers and people who need to wear masks for long periods. It’s also common among athletes who wear helmets or other sports equipment that causes the fabric to rub against the skin.

There are three primary ways that masks cause acne breakouts around your mouth, cheeks, and nose:

– Masks trap moisture, sweat, oil, dirt, and other irritants next to your skin and create a warm, moist environment around your face. This leads to acne outbreaks and even folliculitis, which is when hair follicles become inflamed or infected.

– Masks can rub against your skin, causing friction and chafing. This happens most frequently on the bridge of the nose, on the cheekbones, and where elastic bands wrap around the ears. Masks should fit tightly next to your skin, but over time they can put pressure on areas of your skin and cause it to break down.

– Masks can absorb oils from your skin. Sometimes this causes dry skin, irritation, and sensitivity. In more severe cases, people can experience inflammation, redness, peeling, dry patches, or dark marks. Masks can also make skin conditions like rosacea flare-up.

Like other forms of acne, some people are more susceptible to “maskne” than others. The condition can be made worse by heat and perspiration from the cloth rubbing against your skin.

How to prevent maskne

Wearing masks, combined with the stressors from the pandemic, is the perfect storm for acne outbreaks. But, there are some practical things you can do to treat acne mechanica and reduce the symptoms.

Choose cloth masks: Cloth masks made from several layers of 100% cotton can provide a balance of protection and breathability. Cotton is soft on the skin, and the natural fibers filter better than synthetic cloths. They’re also less likely to cause “maskne” than other, more abrasive materials.

Of course, it’s essential to balance mask effectiveness with comfort. If you are a healthcare worker or in a high-risk environment, you might not be able to choose a different type of mask that is less likely to cause an acne breakout.

Make sure the mask fits properly: Choose a mask that fits snugly around your nose, under your chin, and on the sides. If it’s too tight or moves around too much on your face, it can cause chafing and irritation. You are also more tempted to touch and adjust a poorly fitting mask, which can exacerbate the problem.

Wash your mask regularly: Putting your mask in a sunny spot after you wear it might kill viruses and bacteria, but it won’t prevent maskne. The material absorbs sweat, oils, dirt, makeup, moisturizer, sunscreen, and all manner of contaminants that allow microbes to collect and grow in the weave of the fabric.

Be sure to wash your mask and dry it thoroughly after every use to help prevent acne breakouts and skin irritation. If you sweat a lot while wearing a mask or exercise with one on, consider changing your mask more frequently, so you’re not wearing a sweaty mask for too long.

Avoid harsh skin care products and other sources of irritation: Simple is better when preventing or treating maskne. A gentle, oil-free face cleaner is usually an excellent choice to keep your skin clean and avoid irritation. If you’ve been using a retinoid, consider only applying it in the evening instead of during the day.

Many dermatologists recommend avoiding abrasive scrubs and harsh cleansers that can damage the skin barrier and make the skin more sensitive to the friction of the mask. Some experts suggest a temporary breakup with makeup and other beauty products that can clog pores and contribute to the maskne problem.

Instead, clean your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser and wait at least 15 minutes after applying moisturizer, sunscreen, or other skincare products before putting on your mask. This gives the products plenty of time to soak into your skin.

Put off trying new skincare products: Even if you only wear a mask for short periods, it can make your skin more sensitive. Avoid trying new skincare products, especially harsh treatments like chemical peels, exfoliants, and retinoids. These can make matters worse.

Consider alternatives to masks: If it’s a safe option, consider using a face shield as an alternative to a face mask. Clear plastic face shields are typically more comfortable and, when combined with physical distancing and hand washing, can provide the same level of protection from COVID-19.

If you have a persistent or severe case of acne mechanica, it may require a prescription acne treatment from an acne dermatologist to bring it under control and prevent other issues.

The friendly staff at the Advanced Acne Institute is always ready to answer your questions and find the best treatment plan for you. Contact us today to learn more and schedule a convenient telemedicine appointment!


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