What is Maskne?

Maskne Defined

A breakout of acne or a related skin condition (such as dermatitis or folliculitis) that is caused by wearing a face mask (such as a surgical mask) over an extended period of time. Maskne occurs when people wear tight-fitting masks for long periods of time.

  • Using masks frequently can lead to skin irritation and acne under your mask. People often call this “maskne.”
  • Masks cause acne by blocking pores and irritating the skin, leading to inflammation and skin breakdown.  
  • You can prevent mask acne with a few simple steps, like keeping your skin moisturized and using cotton masks.
  • Regular hydration and corticosteroids for inflammation can help to treat mask acne. Other acne treatments can help too, but applying them under a mask can actually worsen skin irritation.   

Maskne symptoms

Your skin naturally builds up sweat and oil throughout the day, and pair that with the humidity from breathing into the mask and the mask rubbing on your skin, and you’re likely to have some skin trouble, . Masks can cause your skin’s natural pH to change, encouraging bacterial and yeast overgrowth, irritation, clogged pores, and an increase in acne breakouts.

How do face masks cause acne?

Wearing a mask can cause acne in a few ways:

  • Rubbing: Masks can irritate through friction and chafing, almost like a rug burn. The areas most at risk are the angle of the jaw and the bridge of the nose, where elastic bands hit behind the ears. Over time, tightly fitting masks can put enough pressure on the skin to cause it to break down. 
  • Irritation: The material of a mask absorbs the skin’s natural oils. For some people, this leads to skin dryness and sensitivity. And residue from detergents and fabric softeners may get stuck underneath the mask and can cause skin irritation, too. 
  • Occlusion: Masks that sit on the skin for a long time cause occlusion. This means pores can get clogged and become pimples or acne cysts. Your breath trapped beneath the mask also makes the skin surface warm and moist. Besides regular acne, this environment can lead to folliculitis, a type of breakout where yeast or bacteria infect hair follicles.

8 tips to protect your face from mask acne (‘maskne’)

Wearing a mask doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop acne or other skin problems. But when you wear a mask, take these steps to protect your skin and prevent breakouts. 

1. Wash your face first

Dirt and oil on your skin can get trapped under the mask and cause breakouts. Always put your mask on over a clean face. Choose a gentle cleanser that’s free of fragrance and oil. Rinse with lukewarm water, not hot water. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing the skin.

2. Apply a good moisturizer

Moisturizer keeps your skin hydrated and acts like a barrier to friction from a mask. Again, choose one that is fragrance free and oil free. Look for protective ingredients, like ceramide and hyaluronic acid. Avoid heavy products that can clog your skin and make you break out.

3. Skip the makeup

Don’t wear makeup underneath your mask. Layering an occlusive mask on top of layers of makeup increases the likelihood of clogged pores and breakouts. Plus, residue from makeup can soil your mask fabric.

4. Only wear clean masks

Your mask will collect dirt and oil from your skin plus bacteria from your mouth and nose. So change your masks regularly and wash them after every use.

5. Stick to fragrance-free laundry detergent

When washing your mask, make sure you choose a fragrance-free laundry detergent. Fragrance in fabric can be a skin irritant, so you definitely don’t want it on your face.

6. Don’t reuse surgical masks

Surgical masks are not meant to be reused because there’s no good way to clean them. If you choose to use one, don’t use the same one twice. 

7. Protect your ears

Elastic strap loops can cause friction burns on the back of your ears. If your skin is sensitive, or if you wear a mask for long periods of time, there are alternatives. You can attach the straps to buttons on a headband or to a clip behind your head.

8. Avoid harsh products

Medicated products, like retinol or benzoyl peroxide, are more irritating under a mask. This is because more product can be absorbed into the skin than without a mask, which could cause even more irritation. If you’re wearing a mask a lot, either use less of these products or pause using them altogether. 

You may have noticed an uptick in red bumps in the areas of your face that your mask covers, whether you’re someone who regularly gets breakouts or if you have nearly perfect skin. Acne can literally be a pain, but that doesn’t mean you should stop wearing a mask. If you treat your skin and clean your face coverings, you should be able to get it under control and eliminate larger breakouts from happening. Everyone’s skin responds differently to products and stressors, so go slow and spot test any new, potentially irritating ingredients.

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