What Is “Maskne” And How Can You Prevent It?

We asked an expert dermatologist.
Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

Wearing masks is a new part of daily life as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic. But wearing masks can also lead to a more personal battle—with acne. Summer weather is already infamous for causing clogged pores from sweat and humidity. Wearing a face covering often only causes more irritation and inflammation. It’s the reason the internet coined a new, clever term: “maskne,” or mask-related acne.

Wearing a mask is necessary to protect yourself and others. Below, you can learn more about how to protect the skin underneath your mask, too. Minnesota Monthly received expert advice about maskne from Dr. Margareth Pierre-Louis, medical director and board-certified dermatologist at Twin Cities Dermatology Center.

What is maskne? What kind of acne is it?

Maskne is any form of facial acne or skin irritation from face coverings, such as masks and face shields.

What causes it?

The oil glands and skin surface become inflamed and irritated from the material rubbing against it and also saliva, sweat, and oils from the skin cause it to break out in rashes or pimples.

Have patients been coming to you about it?

With face coverings required in public for all ages 2 and up, there are many people experiencing maskne and worsening flares of their existing acne or face eczema. Patients are coming to the clinic for these conditions daily.

How can you prevent it?

The best way to prevent maskne is to avoid use of masks made of non-breathable materials and to reduce continued, unnecessary use of masks when not in public or not around others. Practicing daily gentle skin care with mild liquid cleansers and avoidance of overly harsh exfoliants before wearing a mask will also help protect the skin barrier. Continue treatment of any acne and face rashes to prevent flares of these conditions.

Dr. Margareth Pierre-Louis.

Courtesy Twin Cities Dermatology Center.

Are there certain masks that are better at preventing it?

Breathable cloth masks and using those not indicated for healthcare workers will be gentler against the skin. Ensuring that masks rest on the skin and are not pulling on it or too tight will also allow the skin to breathe.

Are there specific steps you can add to your skincare routine that will help?

Use a gentle liquid soap to wash the face daily. Moisturize the skin with a trusted moisturizer that does not irritate the skin or cause pimples. Reduce use of skin exfoliants such as multiple products applied to the face containing alpha/beta hydroxy acids or products with scrubs or beads.

Does wearing makeup and a mask impact maskne?

While most makeups are hypoallergenic, wearing unbreathable or restrictive masks that suffocate the skin could result in makeup under the mask further irritating the skin. Use makeups that you tolerate and that do not aggravate the skin and avoid applying any topicals to the skin if not needed.

How often should people wash their masks (if they are reusable)?

To avoid skin irritation, wash your mask daily, especially if soiled by makeup or if it appears dirty.

As a dermatologist, what is your skincare routine and has it changed since you started wearing a mask?

As a healthcare worker in contact with patients, I am in clinical, disposal masks which are more restrictive and not as breathable throughout the workday. I remove the face covering whenever I am alone or not in need of protecting myself and others. When not at work and if in public, I wear breathable cloth masks if needed. My skincare routine is daily facial washing with a liquid cleanser and moisturization at the end of the day remains essential.

Will your advice on skincare and mask-wearing change come winter?

Yes, most likely more moisturization will be needed given the colder weather to hydrate the skin and further reduce the use of skin exfoliants, such as toners, scrubs, and irritating acids to prevent irritation and support hydration.

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Liv Martin
Liv Martin is an editorial intern at Greenspring Media. She is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with degrees in journalism and cello performance. Liv is an em-dash enthusiast, French language-speaker, and proud Midwesterner. Follow her on Twitter @bylivmartin.