Face Mask Breakouts: How To Stop 'Maskne'

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

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. This type of facial acne could likely be what dermatologists call "maskne."

Luckily, maskne is preventable with proper mask use and daily skin care. You can also treat it with options used for regular acne, like salicylic acid facial cleansers. Read on to learn more about the condition.

What Is Maskne?

Maskne is a term short for mask-related acne. As the name suggests, the skin condition is a type of breakout that results from wearing a face mask.

"You can see it in the areas covered by the mask and also the areas where the mask and face shields touch the skin," 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, told Health.

However, it has been more commonly found around the chin area compared to the cheek area.

Why Does It Happen?

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. Acne mechanica happens when equipment or clothing keeps heat and sweat on your skin, causing irritation and possible breakouts.

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," added Dr. Saedi. For masks in particular, "while breathing for hours with the mask on, it creates humidity to [form] a breeding ground for acne," explained Dr. Saedi.

Dr. Saedi also said that maskne—and often, acne mechanica in general—is triggered by pores being blocked by sweat, oil, and makeup.

"Maskne is acne formed in areas due to friction, pressure, stretching, rubbing or occlusion," explained Dr. Saedi. The friction of a mask can also block and clog pores, leading to the formation of comedones or blackheads, said Dr. Suozzi.

How To Prevent Maskne

Prevention is always your best bet when it comes to maskne. Between skin care and mask decisions, you can reduce or eliminate your chances of getting acne from wearing a mask.

Engage in Daily Skin Care

Having a clean face can help you avoid maskne. You'll want to use the appropriate skin care products for the type of skin you have. However, mild, fragrance-free cleansers are good go-to products.

Also, moisturize your face both after washing it and after wearing a mask. Moisturizers will vary according to your skin type as well. Use gel moisturizers for oily skin, lotions for normal or combination skin, and creams for dry skin.

Avoid or Limit Skin Irritating Skin Products

Masks can result in more sensitive skin. When you know you'll have to wear a mask, wait to try out products that may be irritating for your skin such as chemical peels. It's also a good idea to limit use of skin irritating products like retinoids or aftershave.

Pick the Right Mask

Preventing maskne can start with the type of mask you are using. The ideal mask will:

  • Be snug and comfortable
  • Have a minimum of two layers
  • Be made of soft, natural, breathable fabric

These mask features can help reduce skin irritation and breakouts.

Change Your Mask As Needed

Not matter the kind of proper mask you use, you have to make sure you change them. How often you change your mask will also be based on the type of mask you're using:

  • Cloth masks: When you wear a cloth mask, wash it after each use and check to see how the mask fits. If it is less snug or comfortable, it may offer less protection from germs.
  • Disposable masks: You'll want to replace disposable masks as often as possible. If they're wet or dirty, use a new one and dispose of the soiled one.

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.

Remove Your Mask When You Can

You may be required or want to wear your mask out in public or social settings where physical distancing is difficult to maintain. Still, don't forget that there are times where you can give your face some air.

You could take the mask off 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. One good rule of thumb is, when it's safe to do so, take a 15-minute mask break for every four hours you're wearing a mask.

How To Treat It

Just as skin care can prevent maskne, it can also help treat the condition based on how you engage in skin care and the products you use.

Be Gentle

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," said Dr. Suozzi, adding that overdoing skin care can compromise your skin's protective barrier.

Instead, wash your face with a gentle cleanser, added Dr. Saedi: "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, which helps unclog the pores.

Keep Your Skin Moisturized

For hydration after washing, look for a product with hyaluronic acid, said Dr. Saedi. You can also create a healthy barrier between the mask and your skin by using a facial cleanser and cream with ceramides.

What Are Ceramides?

Ceramides are fat-soluble parts of cells that keep the skin from losing water but protect the skin from environmental substances. Although they are found in the body, ceramides can also be applied topically.

Dr. Saedi and Dr. Suozzi recommended soothing emollients—skin-softening and moisture-increasing substances—"to help calm the irritation caused by friction."

Use Products for Acne Breakouts

Treating acne breakouts will additionally help with maskne. As far as treatment options go for breakouts, "over-the-counter products that help resolve the clogged pores are beneficial," said Dr. Suozzi. Look for products that have "non-comedogenic," "oil free," or "won't clog pores" on the label.

A Quick Review

Maskne is acne from friction and sweat after wearing a mask for a long time. The condition is preventable with daily skin care routines and proper mask use and care. You can also reduce maskne by being gentle with your skin, keeping your skin moisturized, and using acne treatments. If you still have issues with maskne, talk with a healthcare provider to see what treatments are best.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Spigariolo CB, Giacalone S, Nazzaro G. Maskne: the epidemic within the pandemic: from diagnosis to therapyJournal of Clinical Medicine. 2022;11(3):618. doi:10.3390/jcm11030618

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Is sports equipment causing your acne?

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. 9 ways to prevent face mask skin problems.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use and care of masks.

  5. MedlinePlus. Salicylic acid topical.

  6. Fujii M. The pathogenic and therapeutic implications of ceramide abnormalities in atopic dermatitisCells. 2021;10(9):2386. doi:10.3390/cells10092386

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. What can treat large facial pores?

Related Articles