Expert advice on avoiding any skin issues while wearing a face mask. 

“The good news? There are simple ways to avoid rashes and breakouts while using masks.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people encountered the annoyance of maskne for the first time. But maskne has always been an issue for people who work in occupations that require regular mask wearing, such as nail technicians, dental hygienists and dentists, nurses and doctors, custodians, and construction workers. Maskne is a play on the word “acne,” but it’s actually an umbrella term for a variety of skin woes that can develop in the masked region of the face, including pimples, rosacea, perioral dermatitis and contact dermatitis. The good news? There are simple ways to avoid rashes and breakouts while using masks. 

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What are the Symptoms of Maskne? 

This varies from person to person. Some find they break out with pimples, while others experience burning, itching, redness, or chapped skin. People who have pre-existing skin issues—such as allergies, acne, rosacea or eczema—are more likely to develop maskne. People whose skin tends to become reactive in to very humid or arid climates are also at greater risk of experiencing maskne. 

Just as the symptoms vary, so can the cause: Maskne can be triggered by a build-up of warmth and humidity under a mask; by the friction that occurs when mask materials touch the skin; and even by the detergents used to wash cloth masks. 

Maskne Prevention 101

Here are some simple steps to help prevent maskne before it becomes a problem:

  1. Ensure you have the right size mask and that it’s adjusted properly on your face. The top of the mask should rest gently across the bridge of the nose, while the bottom fits on the chin just below the mouth. You want the mask to be snug enough to provide protection and to optimize filtration, but not so tight that there is pressure on the face. 
  2. Once you remove your mask for the day, wash your face with a gentle cleanser (see the skincare section below for suggestions) and pat your skin dry—don’t risk abrading the skin by wiping with a rough towel.
  3. For those who have to wear a mask for long periods of time, Johns Hopkins’ Medicine suggests a zinc oxide cream (like Triple Paste Medicated Ointment) or petroleum jelly-based ointment as a barrier to ease friction.
  4. Always start your day with a clean mask. With disposable masks, use a new one each mask-wearing session. Cloth mask? Use one that has been freshly laundered with a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic detergent. But your best choice might be a reusable mask. Makana masks, for example, make contact with the skin only with a hypoallergenic memory foam seal. The mask can be cleaned with hot soapy water, then dried with a cloth or towel. If you wish to, you can further sanitize the Makana mask by wiping it with a cloth dipped in 70% isopropyl alcohol. 

Pare Down the Skincare Routine

When it comes to maskne, think “easy does it.” Harsh chemicals or scrubbing are the last thing your skin needs once it’s irritated. Instead, wash your face with lukewarm water and a cleanser formulated for sensitive skin (such as Aquanil, Cetaphil, CeraVe, or Vanicream). Then apply a moisturizer ideal for your skin type. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends

  • a gel moisturizer for oil skin or for use in hot weather
  • a lotion moisturizer for normal or combination skin
  • a cream moisturizer for dry or very dry skin. (If you are a fan of thick moisturizers, apply a bit less in the mask region so pores don’t get clogged.)

If you use prescription retinoids (like Retin-A) or over-the-counter retinols (found in many “resurfacing” or anti-wrinkle products), don’t apply these to the area of your face that will be covered by a mask. The warmer environment under your mask can boost their intensity to the point where they can cause redness—almost like a sunburn. For the same reason, if you are treating acne with a benzoyl peroxide cream, look for 2.5- to 5-percent strength, as opposed to a 10-percent cream.  

When to See a Dermatologist 

If you’re following all the basics and still have irritation, rashes or acne, check in with your doctor. You may need oral antibiotics or prescription-strength creams to solve the problem once and for all. 

Can You Wear Makeup with a Mask? 

Sure! But think simple and light. A tinted moisturizer with SPF of at least 30 gives a polished look, and won’t cause any problems under a mask. Keep any other cosmetics, like blush or concealer, out of the mask zone; otherwise, they are fine to wear.