“Maskne”: Face Mask Break-Outs and How to Keep Your Skin Healthy During a Pandemic – Robin Lewallen, M.D.

Are you suffering from break-outs and blemishes under your mask? If so, you are not alone. At NBDPS we have definitely seen an uptick in adults suffering from break-outs. For many people, mask-wearing is leading to an embarrassing and unpleasant side effect: bumps, pimples, and zits. The problem has become so common that we have a new trending term: “maskne” (mask + acne). The term “maskne” emerged after people across the globe began describing various skin conditions associated with the continuous usage of face masks utilized to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wearing a mask is now required statewide in California when you are not able to socially distance. Wearing a mask or face covering can slow the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the release of virus particles into the air. Face masks are an essential way to protect ourselves and others. Since face masks are here to stay and have become the hot new accessory of 2020, we would like to discuss the known causes of “maskne” share a few ways to keep your skin healthy and happy under your mask.
Clinically, dermatologists have noticed “maskne” can present as two different known medical conditions: acne mechanica or perioral dermatitis. “Maskne” is caused by a combination of friction against the skin as well as a humid environment created by the nose and mouth being covered for extended periods of time. These hot and humid conditions create the optimum environment for bacterial growth as well as clogged pores and sebum production.
Here are a few expert tips to reduce your risk of developing “maskne”
1. Wash your mask regularly. If you are using a cotton mask or face covering it is recommended that you wash the mask after each use with a fragrance-free detergent. Also, just like you shouldn’t stay in your sweaty gym clothes after a work-out, if your mask gets sweaty, exchange it for a clean one throughout the day.
2. Brush your teeth prior to putting on your mask: Bacteria from our mouths can get trapped on the skin while wearing a mask. It is ideal to brush after eating and if brushing is not possible, gargling with mouthwash would also be beneficial. Keeping your mouth clean not only smells better under the mask but can also keep the bad bacteria from overgrowing on your skin.-
3. Cleanse your skin before and after wearing your mask. Use something gentle and fragrance-free and avoid any harsh and abrasive scrubs that may cause micro cuts or abrasions in your skin barrier. For most skin types, the Priori Advanced AHA Gentle Facial Cleanser or the MD McNeill Dermatology Antioxidant cleanser are great cleansers to prevent break-outs and calm skin irritation. For those with oily skin, you may consider looking for cleansers with salicylic acid (such as the MD McNeill Dermatology Brightening Clearing cleanser).
4. Use non-comedogenic moisturizers: Hydrated and well-moisturized skin maintains a healthy skin barrier. Having an intact skin barrier can block the bacteria from penetrating into the sebaceous glands of the skin. After cleansing the skin, apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer to the entire face and allow it to dry prior to putting on your facemask. Light-weight non-comedogenic moisturizers are even recommended for people with oily or acne-prone skin. Great light-weight options for the morning include the Priori AHA Barrier Repair Complex or the MD McNeill Dermatology Face Quencher. In the evenings, especially if you’re noticing irritation from wearing your face mask you may want to consider a thicker night cream such as our MD McNeill Dermatology Intensive Repair Night Cream or the Alumier Recovery Balm.
5. Skip the make-up: If there is any benefit of having your face covered all day it is that you can skip your facial make-up routine. Concealers and foundations may lead to increased blackheads, clogged pores, and breakouts with such a humid environment. Switch your focus from the skin to the eyes if you still want to play with make-up as part of your daily routine.
6. Treat active break-outs and redness: If you are already experiencing facial redness or break-outs it is important to start treatment immediately. Safe and effective non-prescription treatments include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, tea-tree oil, and Differin. If you are noticing more redness, it is important to use gentle skincare (see below). If your “maskne” continues despite the use of these ingredients for more than a few weeks make sure to see your dermatologist for medical management.
7. Use gentle skincare: While stay-at-home time may seem like perfect time experimenting with advanced skincare or chemical peels these treatments can become problematic once you start routinely wearing a face mask. As dermatologists, we love retinoids, anti-aging products, and chemical peels but these often result in mild-to-moderate skin irritation and exfoliation. This irritation can be exacerbated by the friction of wearing a face mask. If you are already experiencing irritation consider treating yourself to our anti-redness recovery face mask and applying a recovery balm such as Avéne Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream or the Priori Clinical Recovery Serum with DNA Enzyme Complex. Keep your skincare regimen simple, gentle, and fragrance-free when possible. Instead of using harsh or abrasive anti-aging products, consider switching your focus to optimal skin hydration and barrier repair with products such as SkinMedica HA5 or the MD McNeill Dermatology Intensive Repair Night Cream.

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