Masks and acne: Here’s what you can do about ‘maskne’

Nov. 30, 2020

 

A woman wears a face mask during the COVID-19 panemic shows 'maskne'
People who are wearing masks for a long period of time are experiencing ‘maskne’. Dr. Whitney High explains how to control and prevent it. Photo: Getty Images.

Masks are vital to COVID-19 pandemic control practices. However, we’ve seen increasing skin problems related to mask use, often referred to as “maskne.’’

UCHealth Today spoke to Dr. Whitney High, director of the UCHealth Dermatology Clinic at University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus and dermatology professor with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, about how to keep your skin clear during a time when wearing a mask is essential to slowing the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Maskne” might better be called “acne mechanica” by dermatology specialists. This is because it is caused by the “mechanics” of mask-wearing, including increased heat, friction and occlusion/moisture. These mechanics lead to the clogging of pores, making people predisposed to worsened acne, or even acne where the wearer did not have the problem before.

Here are a few things you can do to prevent “maskne:”

Wash your mask often or wear a disposable mask for the appropriate amount of time

If you are using a fabric mask, make sure you are keeping it clean/laundered. Dirt and skin oils can accumulate on the mask and lead to bacterial overgrowth.

Wash your face

After wearing your mask for long periods, it is wise to wash your face using a bland cleanser. This dislodges dirt and oils and prevents blocked pores. Make sure you dry with a clean towel and change towels frequently. Facial cleansers often recommended at the UCHealth Dermatology Clinic include Cetaphil facial cleanser, Cerave hydrating facial cleanser and Vanicream gentle facial cleanser. At many large national retailers, there is a more affordable store-brand, packaged similarly to these major brands.

Use a bland facial moisturizer

There is not any single facial moisturizer that is best to prevent “maskne,” and you may already have a brand you like.

“I recommend using a product that is non-comedogenic (doesn’t cause acne). In general, products with fewer ingredients, and those that are of a thinner consistency can be beneficial. Facial moisturizers often recommended at the dermatology clinic include Cetaphil, Cerave and Vanicream facial moisturizers. Similar to facial cleansers, more-affordable store brands from large national retailers are often very good,’’ High said.

Dr. Whitney High talks about helpful tips for 'maskne.'
Dr. Whitney High talks about the prevention and care of ‘maskne.”

Wear less or even (preferably) no makeup when prolonged mask use is anticipated

The American Academy of Dermatology states that wearing skin makeup under a mask can cause increased clogging of pores and worsens breakouts. Makeup residue will also dirty your mask more quickly.

Consider careful addition of topical anti-acne products

If you are having a breakout and it is not severe enough to justify a visit to the dermatologist, you could consider the careful addition of a skin care product that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, as these are widely utilized for acne. However, because of the occlusion of the mask, these products could prove more irritating. Add these products carefully and sparingly to make sure they improve your condition, and are well-tolerated, without making the problem worse.

Sometimes a breakout related to mask wearing is not simply “maskne.” Other problems that can occur include:

Allergic contact dermatitis to something in a particular mask

Some masks contain formaldehyde or polypropylene, and a few people can be allergic to these chemicals. Typically, allergic reactions are often very sharply circumscribed and limited to the areas that the mask touches the face. If you suspect an allergy, it might be reasonable to change brands and styles of masks (while maintaining appropriate levels of protection) and see if the rash improves. If it does not, it is wise to consult a dermatologist regarding your suspicions.

Rosacea

This is a skin condition often exemplified by flushing/blushing and sometimes an acne-like eruption. People with rosacea tend to have triggers that make their disease worse, such as caffeine, alcohol, sun, etc. The warmth and humidity of mask wearing can be a rosacea trigger for some people. If this seems to be the problem, consultation with a dermatologist is appropriate.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Another chronic skin disease ranges from mild dandruff on the scalp to a flaky rash on the face and can be very itchy. If you have a history of seborrheic dermatitis, it may change or worsen with mask-wearing. Patients with seborrheic dermatitis should consult their dermatologist to manage the flare in their disease.

For anyone experiencing mask-related skin problems, dermatology clinics and providers along the Front Range can be found here.

About the author

Robert Allen loves meeting new people and learning their stories, and he's continually inspired by the patients, staff and providers he meets at UCHealth.

A journalist for 12 years, he joined UCHealth after reporting and editing at the Detroit Free Press. He is the author of Fading Ads of Detroit, a book exploring connections between classic Detroit brands — from Carhartt to Mac-O-Lac Paints to the Detroit Tigers — found on ghost signs and the personal histories of Detroit residents. He previously reported for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, Summit Daily News and Montrose Daily Press.

His outdoor adventures include scrambling summits, hunting powder stashes via snowboard and taking a three-week winter rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. The Oklahoma State University graduate lives in Fort Collins with his wife, Rachel, and their obstinate pug, Darla.

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