Face Mask Breakouts: How To Stop 'Maskne'

It's acne that occurs with wearing masks for a long time.

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If you wear your face mask whenever you leave the house, especially for prolonged periods, you might've noticed a few extra pimples in specific areas of your face—the bridge of your nose, cheeks, and chin. The acne you may be experiencing could likely be what dermatologists call "maskne."

What Is Maskne and Why Does It Happen?

As the name suggests, maskne is a type of breakout that results from wearing a face mask. "Maskne is acne formed in areas due to friction, pressure, stretching, rubbing or occlusion," Nazanin Saedi, MD, board-certified dermatologist, department co-chair of the Laser and Aesthetics Surgery Center at Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting, and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University, explained to Health. Kathleen C. Suozzi, MD, director of Yale Medicine's Aesthetic Dermatology Program and an assistant professor of dermatology, explained that maskne is technically referred to as acne mechanica.

"You can see it in the areas covered by the mask and also the areas where the mask and face shields touch the skin," Dr. Saedi explained. A Journal of Clinical Medicine article published in January 2022 further noted that maskne was more commonly found in the chin area compared to the cheek area.

Prior to the prevalence of COVID-19, this form of facial irritation was primarily experienced by athletes, "commonly due to the sweat, heat, and friction in their helmets and straps," Dr. Saedi said. Dr. Suozzi added that you also get acne mechanica in your armpits from using crutches. "We are seeing it more now with people wearing masks for an extended period of time," Dr. Saedi explained.

Overall, Dr. Saedi said that maskne—and often, acne mechanica in general—is triggered by pores being blocked by sweat, oil, and makeup. For masks in particular, "while breathing for hours with the mask on, it creates humidity to [form] a breeding ground for acne," Dr. Saedi explained. The friction of the mask can also block and clog pores, leading to the formation of comedones or blackheads, Dr. Suozzi said.

How Can You Prevent and Treat Maskne?

Prevention is always your best bet. If you are wearing a cloth mask, wash it daily, Dr. Saedi urged. If you are wearing a disposable mask, try to replace it as often as possible or allow it to air out in between uses. And for tight-fitting N95 respirators, Dr. Suozzi suggested applying silicone gel strips to sit under the pressure points of the mask. "This will help prevent against skin irritation," Dr. Suozzi explained. The Journal of Clinical Medicine article also included recommendations such as not reusing the same mask across multiple days and washing your hands before putting on your mask and after removing it.

If you start developing maskne, first and foremost, be gentle—that means going easy on at-home spa days. "People might be overdoing it at home with face masks, scrubs, washes, and toners," Dr. Suozzi said, adding that overdoing skincare can compromise your skin's protective barrier. Instead, wash your face with a gentle cleanser, Dr. Saedi said. "I would avoid products that are too drying because they will cause the skin barrier to become more compromised." Dr. Saedi suggested a face wash with salicylic acid, like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($9; amazon.com), to help unclog the pores.

For hydration after washing, look for a product with hyaluronic acid, like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream ($29; Ulta.com), Dr. Saedi said. You can also "help build a healthy barrier" between the mask and your skin by using a facial cleanser and cream with ceramides. Dr. Saedi and Dr. Suozzi recommended soothing emollients, like CeraVe Moisturizing Cream ($20; amazon.com), "to help calm the irritation caused by friction."

As far as treatment options go for acne breakouts, "over-the-counter products that help resolve the clogged pores are beneficial," Dr. Suozzi said. For that, Dr. Suozzi recommended products like Differin Acne Treatment Gel ($36; Ulta.com) or La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel ($31; Dermstore.com)

Finally, while wearing your mask out in public or social settings where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, remember you can take the mask off and give your face some air when you're away from other people, like in your own home (provided you're not caring for anyone ill) and while driving your car. If you still have issues with maskne, talk with your healthcare provider to see what treatments can help.

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