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Most people are regularly wearing face masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, many individuals are reporting acne breakouts as a result, or ‘maskne’ as the internet calls it.

This phenomenon doesn’t seem related to how long you wear your mask, either. Some people who wear their mask for short periods, like going to the grocery store, are reporting increased acne along with those who wear masks for long periods.

Fortunately, mask acne can be treated and prevented with the right strategies.

Two Main Causes of Mask Acne

Mask acne isn’t just impacting people with acne-prone skin, even people who typically have clear skin are having breakouts around their mouth, chin, nose, and cheeks. The acne often appears as small pimples.

This acne is due to two main factors:

  • Friction, or rubbing, of the mask against the skin and pressure on your skin, which irritates your skin causing acne
  • Moisture being trapped between the fabric and your skin, which can cause acne-causing bacteria to grow

4 Ways to Treat Existing Mask Acne

If you’re dealing with mask acne, it’s essential to wash your skin regularly and keep it hydrated. Here are four steps that may help.

1. Keep your skin well moisturized.

Keeping your skin hydrated maintains the skin’s barrier, which allows your skin to reduce the risk of being irritated. When you’re going to wear your mask, use non-comedogenic moisturizers that don’t contain heavy oils. Allow at least 15 minutes for the moisturizers or sunscreens to absorb into your skin before putting on your mask. At night, you can use a more hydrating moisturizer that can help heal and repair your skin.

2. Use cleansers designed to fight acne-causing bacteria.

If you have a mild case of mask acne, over-the-counter cleansers may help. However, be careful not to dry out your skin. Ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, do kill the bacteria that may be contributing to your acne, but they can also be drying. If you have sensitive skin, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis, you may want to check with your dermatologist before using products with benzoyl peroxide.

3. Use acne spot treatments.

If your skin has already broken out, an over-the-counter spot treatment can help some people. As with the cleansers, be careful not to dry out your skin. Dry skin can weaken your skin’s barriers and lead to increased irritation and breakouts.

4. Avoid harsh toners

Harsh toners can strip your skin and weaken the protective barrier. Look for toners that have light ingredients to help you unclog your pores.

If these strategies don’t help clear up your skin or if you have a severe case of mask acne, check with your doctor or dermatologist for your best treatment options.

5 Ways to Prevent Mask Acne

One of the primary strategies to prevent this type of acne is to take a break from what’s irritating your skin. That’s easy if the irritation is due to tight biker’s shorts. You can wear looser shorts. However, removing your mask isn’t an option most of the time. Fortunately, here are five ways you can prevent mask acne.

1. Wash reusable masks after each use.

If you’re using a reusable mask, it’s vital to keep it clean. Hanging it in the sunlight or on your rear-view mirror after using it isn’t enough. Washing it is the only way to remove the sweat, dirt, makeup, sunscreen residue, and oils from the fabric. You need to wash your mask in warm water (ideally) with a fragrance-free detergent, and then thoroughly dry it, either line dry or in a dryer.

For disposable masks, only use them once. Put on a fresh mask if you’ve been sweating or it gets damp.

2.  Use fragrance-free and non-comedogenic face products.

Fragrances added to face products smell delightful. If you’re suffering from mask acne, however, it may be contributing to your skin irritations. Be sure to check your products for essential oils as well. Even if these products don’t irritate your skin normally, the pressure and friction of the mask may be pushing the products into deeper skin layers, causing irritation.

Additionally, look for non-comedogenic products since these are less likely to clog your pores.

3. Wear less (or ideally no) makeup under your mask.

Wearing layers of makeup or products on your skin can make it harder for your skin to breathe. If possible, skip wearing makeup, including foundation. Instead, try applying a non-comedogenic sunscreen or combination sunscreen and moisturizer.

4. Wash your face and change your mask after working out or sweating.

If you’re exercising or your job causes you to sweat, you should wash your face to remove the sweat and change into a fresh, clean mask as needed.

5. Wear a soft mask with a breathable fabric.

If possible, wear a mask made of cotton or other natural fibers. These fabrics are less likely to rub or irritate your skin.

Mask Acne Can be Treated and Prevented

Mask acne can be frustrating, but it is treatable and preventable for most people with mild mask acne. Monitor your skin’s health, especially if you must wear an N95 face mask for hours as a part of your job. If you’re experiencing severe breakouts, chaffing, or raw and bleeding areas of your skin due to your mask, contact a dermatologist or doctor for more specialized help.


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