Did you ditch the Neutrogena and say “sayonara” to acne years ago only to rediscover breakouts and persistent blemishes as an adult due to wearing a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic? The “good” news is you’re not alone. Maskne is the term being used to describe the acne that arises from wearing face masks—and it’s not expected to go away any time soon.
“People are wearing face masks for long periods of time, and this is causing them to sweat,” said Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist in New York and author of the book Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. ”Bacteria builds up, and this causes acne.”
Face masks also don’t allow air to flow freely in and out, since that’s the whole purpose of the mask. This is burdensome news for facial skin, since facial masks trap our expelled carbon monoxide and create a humid environment inside the mask. In addition to carbon monoxide, our breath contains many particles—such as bacteria and various other droplets from our mouths—that transfer to the fabric, said Jenny Duranski, owner and founder of Lena Rose Beauty in Chicago.
“This traps those bad bacteria to the area inside a mask, so you can see why our skin is breaking out,” Duranski said.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stop wearing masks to protect yourself from coronavirus exposure. Instead, learn how to protect your delicate facial skin from initial and/or continued breakouts.
First, be careful with the type of face mask you use.
Any face covering—including a cloth mask, a disposable mask, and a surgical mask—increases the risk of breakouts due to the alteration to the skin’s normal environment, said Leighanne McGill, dermatologist with the Dermatology and Laser Center of Chapel Hill.
Cloth masks can absorb the skin’s natural oils, which may trigger your skin to compensate and over-produce oil, leading to more acne. N95 masks, when fitted properly, create a tight seal around the nose and mouth, so healthcare workers on the front lines often experience pressure ulcers and irritant rashes caused by long wear of these tight-fitting masks, in addition to breakouts.
Jaliman recommends avoiding any synthetic fibers, such as polyester. If you can splurge on a silk face mask, do it. Silk is an ideal material for sensitive skin, since it actually contains antibacterial properties. But cotton is also a great choice.
Second, prep your face with a topical antibiotic before you wear your mask.
As soon as you arrive home, use micellar water to remove any makeup and bacteria from your skin, said Jaliman, who recommends Bioderma micellar water. It gently cleanses skin and refreshes skin, and you don’t have to rinse it off. “It has fatty acids, which really help to cleanse and keep the skin hydrated,” she said. “It not only cleanses, but soothes.”
You can also use a mild cleanser that will get the area clean without drying out your skin. Duranski recommends Fitglow Beauty Detox Cleanser or Osmia Organics Rose Clay Facial Soap.
If products like these don’t nip the maskne right away, exfoliating two or three times weekly will cleanse deeper into the pores and help calm any mask irritation and breakout, she said. For exfoliation, Duranski suggests Apoterra Skincare Purifying Mask with Charcoal + Flowers or Laurel Skincare Detox Mask.
Third, moisturize your facial skin like it’s your job.
Since wearing a mask can be very irritating and actually dry out facial skin, it’s best to moisturize more often to replenish the moisture that’s been lost. Make sure you apply an occlusive agent as your final step, said Parisa Morris, founder of Town & Anchor.
Occlusive agents have larger molecules that prevent water loss by creating a protective barrier on your skin’s surface (think face oils and balms).
Finally, clean the mask itself.
“The number one face mask mistake you are making is not washing the cloth mask daily,” said Elizabeth Mullans, a dermatologist practicing in Houston, Texas.
Masks should be washed daily in hot water with laundry detergent and white vinegar, which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties,” she said. “They need to be dried on higher heat settings in the dryer.”
Since repeated washing and drying may cause fabric masks to deteriorate faster, and because some people are sensitive to fragrance, Mullans recommends using a mild, fragrance-free detergent such as Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear.
And then you’ll be ready to battle the coronavirus again, masked and acne-free—or at least well on your way to clearer, less-irritated facial skin!