Face Mask Acne: How To Prevent And Treat 'Maskne'

The skin breakouts caused by your coronavirus mask are different from typical acne. Here's how to deal with them.

We aren’t going to beat around the bush: Wearing face masks is one of your best defenses against COVID-19, but they’re not always great for your skin.

You’ve probably seen a lot of chatter concerning mask-induced breakouts ― aka “maskne” ― given that wearing face masks for longer durations of time can trigger breakouts, blemishes and whiteheads.

Maskne should never prevent you from wearing a face mask.

Take it from board-certified dermatologist Paru Chaudhari: During the coronavirus pandemic, masks are “one of the few measures we can take to protect ourselves and our neighbors. It is important to remember that even if you are getting maskne, you’ll want to keep wearing that mask in order to cover your mouth and nose.”

But the good news is that maskne isn’t hard to treat. At the same time, in order to tame breakouts effectively, it’s key to understand the truths and myths associated with this condition.

So we tapped Chaudhari and other board-certified dermatologists to shed light on the facts and falsehoods of maskne, including how to treat it and when to see a dermatologist.

Fact: Maskne is caused by friction.

What we’re seeing now is different from traditional acne, which is characterized as a skin disorder that causes pimples to form on the face, neck, back and chest areas.

Maskne, Chaudhari explained, develops in areas of friction and before our heavy use of face masks, was typically seen underneath bras, heavy clothing and protective gear.

“Acne mechanica is a form of acne that occurs from pressure, friction or rubbing of the skin,” Chaudhari said. “We often see it underneath athletic equipment like pads and helmets, or straps from backpacks and bags, but anything that can trap and hold heat and sweat against the skin (like face masks) can lead to occlusion of hair follicles and acne mechanica as well.”

Fiction: If you don’t have acne-prone skin, you don’t have to worry about getting maskne.

Maskne isn’t restricted to people with oily or acne-prone skin. It’s more than possible, dermatologist Debra Jaliman said, for normal, dry and combination skin types to develop this type of acne, too.

“The moisture, sweat and dirt that gets trapped in a mask while we are breathing inside of it can cause acne even if you don’t have acne-prone skin,” she said.

Fact: You might not have acne ― it could be rosacea.

Wearing a mask for long durations of time can also drive flareups of rosacea, a common skin disease with a range of symptoms including redness, flushing and breakouts.

Rosacea tends to look a lot like acne, dermatologist Suzanne Friedler told HuffPost, making it hard to determine which one you are actually dealing with.

“Rosacea is an inflammatory condition very similar in appearance to acne, but heat is a main trigger,” Friedler said. “The skin becomes red like in acne, and papules and pustules can also appear,” she said.

If your mask-induced breakouts are actually rosacea, Friedler suggested that a board-certified dermatologist can provide topical and oral therapies that will help.

She also advised wearing masks that are made with a material that keeps the skin cooler: “I’d recommend either 100% cotton with a tight weave or a surgical mask. Avoid polyesters and other synthetic fabrics.”

“Try to choose a mask that doesn’t cause the skin to flush and overheat,” Friedler added. “If you notice your skin is getting red, find an isolated spot to remove your mask and let your skin cool off.”

Fiction: All rashes underneath a mask are associated with maskne.

While mask acne is linked to mask usage, dermatologist Justin Gordon told HuffPost that wearing protective facial covers can set off other dermatological conditions that cause rashes to appear.

“Contact dermatitis, urticaria (hives) and seborrheic dermatitis can be triggered by frequent mask-wearing,” he said. “If the diagnosis is unclear, I recommend consulting with a board-certified dermatologist to be sure.”

Fact: You can get yeast infections from wearing a mask.

This may come as a surprise, but dermatologist Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin said that wearing a mask can lead to yeast infections of the facial skin, which are characterized by redness and pustules.

He also suggested that when caught early enough, these infections can be easily treated with over-the-counter products.

“Our mouths are full of yeast, and a lot of people carry bacteria in their nose, so we’re seeing a lot of people getting redness around their nose and developing pustules,” said Jill Waibel, medical director of Miami Cancer Institute’s Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Clinic. “If you see some of these, go see your dermatologist and have them culture it. Make sure to get treatment early (over-the-counter Nizoral ketoconazole shampoo, or Lotrimin clotrimazole cream) because the pustules can easily get out of control.”

Fiction: You should use typical acne treatments to treat maskne.

It may be tempting to whip out those full-strength drying lotions and spot treatments next time you see a zit forming on your chin, but dermatologist Kellie Reed warns against it.

“Some acne products are drying,” Reed told HuffPost, pointing to benzoyl peroxides and salicylic acids. When applied under a mask, she said, “they can irritate skin further, contributing to other skin conditions like irritant contact dermatitis or eczema.”

To modify your skin care routine correctly, she advised simple steps like using high-strength products only in the evening, using products at lower strength or reducing the frequency at which you use these products.

“Always aim to adopt a simple, yet gentle skin care routine,” Reed said. “To do this, you can use a gentle non-soap cleanser and an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizer daily. Not only will these products moisturize and hydrate your skin, but they will also serve as a slight barrier against the harsh mask.”

Fact: Vaseline-like products can actually make maskne worse.

Mask friction can lead to redness and irritation, but according to dermatologist Kemunto Mokaya, some friction-reducing products can do more harm than good.

“Many people assume that products like Vaseline, coconut oil and other greasy products will help maskne, because they reduce friction with the masks,” she told HuffPost. “However, occlusive products actually worsen maskne, because they block the skin pores and hair follicles.”

Instead, look for products that are labeled non-comedogenic because they won’t block pores.

Fiction: Putting your mask out in the sun will kill the virus.

Yes, you may have seen this one floating around the internet. There isn’t much truth to it, said dermatologist Marie Hayag, because UVC rays ― the sanitizing ones ― are mostly blocked by the ozone layer and natural sunlight lacking UVC is not really effective in killing the virus.

“UVA and UVB may help a tiny bit, but it would take hours and hours and does not sanitize like UVC does,” she added.

Fact: You should always wear a mask in public, even if your skin breaks out.

Don’t simply stop wearing a mask if maskne strikes. Sometimes a different kind of mask can solve the problem without any need for any skin treatment, Tonkovic-Capin said.

“Many times, just changing the type of fabric or the type of mask would solve the problem,” he said. “I recommend using any undyed, preferably natural fabric,” such as cotton.