How to Prevent Maskne, Those Pesky Pimples Caused by Your Face Mask

By
Emily Boynton
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illustration of masks
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© Goce Ilievski / Stocksy United
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You’re doing your part and wearing a mask all day in the clinic or office, as well as when you go on trips to the grocery store or to get some takeout. But you’re also noticing an increase in acne on your face. 

“It feels like a crummy side effect of doing the right thing — a raw deal, to be sure,” says Ata Moshiri, MD, MPH, who sees patients at the Dermatology Clinic at UW Medical Center – Roosevelt.

While wearing your mask is a must, acne doesn’t have to be. Find out what’s going on with these breakouts and what you can do to up your skin care game with these tips and tricks.

What is maskne? 

Mask acne, aka maskne, is actually a fairly common form of acne known as acne mechanica, which occurs in areas where something applies pressure to the skin.

If you’ve played sports in the past, there’s a chance you’ve actually had this type of acne before.

“Classically, we see this in athletes that wear helmets with tightly fitted chin straps or those wearing snug baseball caps,” says Moshiri. “Now with the pandemic and people wearing masks all the time, we’re seeing it in areas where masks rest on the face.”

These pimples will likely pop up on your chin, nose or cheeks, but they can also form along your forehead if you are wearing a face shield as well as a mask. 

How can you differentiate between maskne and regular acne?

While the biggest giveaway for maskne is the location of the pimples and your history of wearing a mask, there are some other key characteristics. 

“In this variety, there can sometimes be background irritation too, such as crusting or fissuring in those areas,” says Moshiri.

With your run-of-the-mill acne, you may experience blackheads, whiteheads and cysts, but you typically won’t have an accompanying rash. Any redness, cracks in skin or irritation along with blackheads and whiteheads can be a clue that you may be dealing with maskne.

How do you treat maskne?

When you start seeing pimples or redness, you may want to throw every product at the problem, but your morning dosage of lotions and potions could actually be contributing to your aggravated skin.
 
“Now is the time to simplify your skin care routine,” Moshiri says. 

This includes avoiding retinoids and topical steroids, unless prescribed by your dermatologist, he notes. While under normal (non-masking) circumstances these treatments are prescribed for acne and rashes, respectively, they can cause dermatitis and irritation if you haven’t used them before, and they shouldn’t be used in self-treatment. 

So, what cleansers can you use?

Moshiri recommends treating a breakout with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser. An easy way to ensure the cleanser is skin-friendly is to look for “non-comedogenic” on the bottle, which means the formula shouldn’t clog your pores or worsen acne. 

And for moisturizers, the key is to choose something light.

“Oftentimes, facial sunscreens can double as a moisturizer as well, so this may be another opportunity to simplify things,” Moshiri says. “If you still find that you’re very dry, a light, fragrance-free, cream-based facial moisturizer should be safe to use. Oils and ointments are too heavy and should be avoided.”

How do you treat hyperpigmentation? 

Your acne, or in this case maskne, may cause hyperpigmentation, or darkening of patches of skin. 

To treat this, Moshiri recommends wearing sunscreen regularly and using products with glycolic acid or azelaic acid in them. 

“Glycolic acid promotes the removal of dead skin and that turnover helps brighten your features,” he notes. “Azelaic acid has been shown to interfere with the enzymes that produce pigment in the skin, and can lighten those dark spots over time.”

How can you prevent maskne?

You have some options for banishing those blemishes. 

First, get choosey with your mask. You want a material that will protect you from the coronavirus and allow your skin to breathe, like 100% cotton, Moshiri says. Once you’ve selected your mask, make sure to wash it regularly.

“Masks collect dirt, facial oils and any products you put on your face,” Moshiri notes. “If you allow those things to build up, they plug your hair follicles over long hours of use.”

Washing your mask with hot water and laundry detergent will not only stop the spread of the virus, but will also clean out any dirt, sweat and oil in the fabric. 

Other options to prevent pimples include cutting back on the amount and frequency that you wear makeup; switching to a light, fragrance-free sunscreen; and decreasing the amount of sugary foods in your diet. 

Luckily, you don’t need to do a lot to give your skin some TLC. With a simplified skin care routine and a clean, breathable face covering, you can wear your mask and prevent maskne, too.

Did You Know?

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