To slow the spread of COVID-19, face masks are now part of our daily routine. They are now required in many public places, such as restaurants and grocery stores, as a barrier against the new coronavirus that spreads through respiratory droplets.

If you develop breakouts from wearing a mask, you’re not alone. This condition, known as “maskne” (mask acne), is a common side effect of using a mask.

Maskne doesn’t simply cause pimples, though. It may also result in skin issues, including redness, bumpiness, and irritation. It can also trigger conditions such as dermatitis and folliculitis.

If you’re concerned about maskne — whether it’s acne or other skin flareups resulting from mask use — read on. We’ll explore why it happens and ways to manage them.

Generally, “maskne” is an umbrella term for several skin conditions that can stem from wearing a face mask or covering.

It can include:

  • Acne. Acne happens when your pores become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and dirt. It can cause pimples, whiteheads, or blackheads. It is more likely if you have a history of acne, it but can affect anyone. It seems to be most common in people using surgical masks and some types of respirator.
  • Rosacea. If you have rosacea, wearing a mask may cause flareups. This can lead to pimples and redness.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis occurs when you’re allergic or sensitive to the material of your mask. It can result in a red rash, along with irritation and blisters. It is the most common type of mask reaction and often affects the cheeks and the bridge over the nose. People who use a mask for 6 hours or more without a break and those with a compromised skin barrier are more at risk. Symptoms range from dry, scaly patches to skin ulceration.
  • Atopic eczema. Also called atopic dermatitis, skin symptoms can appear or worsen in people whose skin is sensitive due to eczema, because of the irritant effect of wearing a mask.
  • Periofacial dermatitis. This is a condition where small pimples develop around the eyes and mouth. It can happen while wearing a mask after using cosmetics or corticosteroid creams or for no apparent reason.
  • Folliculitis. Folliculitis, or an infection of your hair follicles, causes bumps that look like an acne breakout. You might also experience itchiness or pain.
  • Urticaria. Wheals, or hives, can result from the downward pressure of some types of masks or from contact with allergens, such as latex, in those who are susceptible. Pressure urticaria can appear at once or within 24 hours. Allergic urticaria usually appears at once and disappears within 24 hours after removing the trigger.
  • Seborrhoeic eczema. In this type of dermatitis, greasy yellow scales develop, mainly on the scalp, forehead, eyebrows, and in folds around the nose and lips.

If you already have one of these conditions, you may be more prone to developing maskne, but wearing a mask regularly can also cause symptoms to arise for the first time.

Some masks and face coverings, such as those used in a healthcare setting, can lead to more severe skin changes because of the material used and the fit of the protective equipment.

Because maskne can involve various skin conditions, the exact cause of your symptoms may vary.

In most cases, maskne is the result of clogged pores. You already have oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells on your skin. But when you wear a mask, these substances can build up more and block your pores.

A mask also traps humidity due to your breathing and sweating, which may increase the risk of acne.

Another possible cause is friction. The material of a face covering can rub against your skin, leading to chafing and irritation.

Or you may be sensitive or allergic to the material of your face covering. Some masks are pretreated with chemicals or feel rough on the skin. Similarly, washing a mask in a scented detergent may lead to irritation.

It’s essential to keep wearing a face mask, even if you have maskne. Keeping your mouth and nose covered is one of the best ways to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19.

Finding a suitable mask can help prevent maskne, but there are also ways of treating symptoms if they arise.

Let’s take a closer look.

Wash your face regularly

During the pandemic, continue following your regular skincare routine to keep your skin healthy.

This includes washing your face:

  • once in the morning
  • once at night, before going to bed
  • after sweating or wearing a mask

When washing your face, use lukewarm water. Pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Avoid rubbing your skin as this may cause irritation. Use simple soaps and cleansers.

Get some tips on soaps for managing skin breakouts.

Use a gentle cleanser

A gentle cleanser can help remove excess oil, sweat, and bacteria. Avoid cleansers that contain alcohol or perfume. These ingredients can cause irritation and make it harder for your symptoms to heal.

If your maskne is more severe, try a medicated cleanser with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

If you have sensitive skin, ask your doctor or dermatologist about the best type of medicated cleanser for your skin.

What are some of the best face washes for acne?

Use a noncomedogenic moisturizer

After washing your face, apply a moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated. Use a noncomedogenic product, which likely won’t block your pores.

What are the best moisturizers to use if you have acne?

Apply cortisone cream and moisturizer with ceramides

If your maskne mostly involves irritation and raw skin, you may want to apply a mild cortisone cream to the area together with a moisturizer that contains ceramides. This can help protect your skin and relieve itching and irritation.

Take a break from makeup

Skip the makeup while you’re treating maskne. Beauty products such as foundation, concealer, and blush can clog your pores and prolong healing.

Since you’ll likely need to continue wearing a face mask in public for the foreseeable future, it might help to follow these maskne prevention tips.

Wash fabric masks after every use

Wash each mask at least once a day. Wash it with your regular wash, and choose a program to suit the fabric. Use unscented, hypoallergenic laundry detergent, then let it dry completely. Keep wet or dirty masks in a plastic bag and wash them as soon as possible to prevent mold developing.

Also, remember to wash or sanitize your hands before putting on a mask and after removing one.

Here, get some tips on sanitizing all kinds of face covering.

Apply a topical antimicrobial cream

It’s not uncommon for bacteria to build up under a mask, which can lead to acne. To prevent this, dermatologists often recommend applying a topical cream or gel on your skin before putting on your face mask. A pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter options.

If a bacterial infection develops, a doctor may recommend stronger preparations or oral antibiotics.

Toss disposable masks after each use

After wearing a disposable mask, throw it away. Consider keeping several face masks on hand in case you need a fresh one.

Be sure to dispose of face masks responsibly, as research shows that they are leading to an increase in plastic pollution. One estimate suggests that 1.56 million face masks entered the world’s oceans in 2020.

Remove your mask every 4 hours

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends removing your mask for 15 minutes every 4 hours. This will help give your skin a break.

You should remove your face mask only when you can practice physical distancing with people who aren’t in your household. It’s also important to wash your hands before taking a mask break.

Apply moisturizer before wearing a mask

If your skin tends to be dry, a mask may cause irritation. Applying a noncomedogenic moisturizer can help hydrate your skin. A moisturizer can also serve as a barrier between your skin and the mask.

Choose the right mask

To avoid skin issues, be mindful of the type of mask you wear.

Try to wear a face mask that:

  • fits snugly, but not too tight
  • has two or more layers of fabric
  • is made of natural, soft fabric, such as cotton
  • has a wire at the top to prevent air from leaking through

Avoid masks made of synthetic fabrics, such as nylon or rayon. These materials can irritate the skin.

Wash your face after wearing a mask

Once you’re home, wash your face with a gentle cleanser. Follow with a moisturizer to protect your skin. Washing your face is especially important after sweating while wearing a mask.

Treating specific conditions

  • Use a mild to moderate strength corticosteroid, such as hydrocortisone 1% ointment, to manage allergic reactions.
  • If an infection develops, you may need a course of antibiotics.
  • For seborrheic dermatitis, a doctor may recommend the regular use of an antifungal shampoo (such as ketoconazole 2%), a short course of mild topical corticosteroids (1% hydrocotisone), or both.
  • For rosacea, a doctor may recommend a topical cream containing ivermectin 1% once a day for mild cases or prescribe antibiotics for more severe symptoms.
  • Tips for resolving folliculitis include gentle daily cleansing with a soap-free cleanser, gentle exfoliation to release ingrown hairs, and wet rather than dry shaving. A combined steroid and antimicrobial cream may help, but a doctor may prescribe antibiotics if tests reveal a bacterial infection.

Here are some additional tips for those using surgical masks and respirators:

  • Follow guidance for taking breaks with specific mask types, as this may vary.
  • Take time to fit the mask, so that it provides a seal but is not too tight.
  • If you have a skin condition and your schedule does not allow for sufficient breaks, speak with your supervisor, who may be able to help.
  • Ask about masks with alternative components that can help avoid triggers.
  • Apply a light emollient at least 30 minutes before using facial PPE.
  • Apply a silicon barrier to vulnerable areas of skin, such as the cheeks.
  • For broken skin, apply a silicon-backed dressing to the nasal bridge and cheeks to protect the area and keep the mask seal intact.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Here are some questions people often ask about maskne.

How do you stop Maskne?

Some tips for stopping maskne include:

  • giving your skin a break by removing the face mask for 15 minutes every 4 hours
  • washing your face regularly with mild skin products
  • wearing a soft fabric mask where possible, as these are less likely to cause friction
  • changing disposable masks or washing reusable masks regularly
  • asking a dermatologist for advice if symptoms are severe

What products are good for maskne?

This will depend on the condition involved and the type of mask you need to use.

Options include:

  • applying an emollient or a silicon barrier cream to help reduce friction and the impact of humidity
  • using a gentle skin cleanser twice daily
  • using products with active ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide
  • asking a doctor about products for more severe symptoms
  • seeking appropriate treatment for specific conditions, such as rosacea, dermatitis, or severe acne

Are disposable or reusable masks better?

Some professionals must use disposable masks, but there is debate about whether reusable or disposable masks are preferable for the general public.

As one 2020 study notes, it’s important to balance between comfort and functionality.

Disposable masks seem to be better at letting air pass through, but pleated, reusable masks appear to be more effective at managing heat and humidity.

Overall, it seems that the most breathable masks are likely to be:

  • washable
  • made of thin, low-density fabric
  • have a good permeability filter that allows vapor to diffuse

The authors concluded that fit is probably the most important factor in preventing particles from passing through while reducing humidity, which can lead to skin problems.

Here, find out more about which mask is likely to suit you best.

Is vitamin C good for maskne?

There is evidence that including vitamin C in the diet, through a high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, can help maintain good skin health. Additional vitamin C, as in topical applications, may also help boost wound healing.

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that various vitamin C products can help prevent or manage maskne, but there is not enough scientific evidence to show that they are safe or effective.

Including fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet, however, will help boost the immune system and maintain overall health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anyone planning on using vitamin C supplements or other remedies should check first with a doctor.

Does a cloth mask prevent maskne?

It is essential to balance between providing a barrier and reducing the humidity that can worsen skin problems.

The British Skin Foundation recommends cotton masks where possible for those susceptible to acne and other skin conditions. These are less likely to cause friction or trap humidity.

One study found that a mask made from a tightly woven cotton sheet, with a density of 300 threads per inch, can offer at least 79 percent protection and higher if the mask also includes silk or chiffon.

However, other factors include the fit of the mask and how often you change and wash it. A tight fit might increase the risk of humidity and irregular washing may also increase the risk of infection.

Is silk or cotton better for a face mask?

Cotton and silk are popular mask fabrics for the general public, but researchers haven’t yet decided which is best for protecting the skin while preventing particles from entering or leaving the mask.

In 2020, some scientists looked into the performance of face masks made of several common fabrics, including cotton, silk, chiffon, flannel, various synthetics, and combinations of these.

They found that combining layers of different fabrics — such as silk or chiffon and cotton — improved the filtration rate, offering more protection from the virus. They suggested that combining two layers of silk with one of densely woven cotton, combined without gaps between layers, may be the best option for preventing the transmission of particles.

Maskne, or mask acne, involves acne breakouts from wearing a face mask. Symptoms may include chafing and irritation, pimples, and other symptoms, depending on the cause.

Although maskne can be frustrating, it’s important to keep wearing face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Washing your face regularly, moisturizing, and wearing the right type of mask may help prevent skin problems.

Researchers have not yet reached a consensus on which materials or fit offer maximum protection from both vital particles and skin symptoms, but a combination of cotton and silk may be beneficial.

If your maskne is more severe, or if it still persists after trying these recommendations, follow up with your dermatologist or healthcare provider.