Medically reviewed by Jenny Ingle Pappas, MSN, APRN, FNP-C on March 1, 2021
This past year we discovered a new word that nobody asked for: maskne. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, mask wearing has become the new norm. While masks are a necessary part of stopping the spread of COVID, they sometimes come with a pesky side effect: redness, pimples and other bumps that have come to be known as maskne. In a recent survey, 66% of Nurx patients with acne said that mask wearing has made their acne worse.
As long as COVID persists, mask wearing will continue to be a must — meaning that maskne isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Even though masks may be sticking around for a while, there are things you can do to keep your maskne at bay.
What is maskne?
Although it rhymes with acne, maskne isn’t always classic acne. It can encompass a range of skin conditions including typical acne, rosacea, folliculitis, perioral dermatitis, and contact dermatitis.
Most people who have maskne are experiencing what’s known as acne mechanica. Acne mechanica is acne brought about by the friction or rubbing of certain materials against the skin. Athletes may be familiar with acne mechanica as the acne that appears after certain workouts, as sweat builds up and clothing irritates the skin.
The warmth and moisture of your breath creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, while the friction of the mask rubs that bacteria into your skin, clogging pores and causing inflammation. This results in pimples on the areas where the mask meets your skin.
People who suffer from rosacea may find that extended periods of mask use cause flare-ups and breakouts. If you are prone to dermatitis, keratosis pilaris, or folliculitis you may find that habitual mask wearing causes these conditions to flare up.
How can I prevent maskne?
The best way to prevent maskne is by starting with proper mask hygiene. If you wear a reusable mask, be sure to wash it regularly — ideally every day. Disposable mask wearers should replace their masks frequently in order to prevent buildup of any bacteria on the inside. While you may be tempted to wear thinner, more breathable masks, it’s important to keep in mind that masks like these are generally worse at preventing the spread of COVID-19, even if they do lessen the chances of developing maskne.
Adopting the right skincare regimen can also help stave off maskne. First and foremost, wash your face every morning and night with a gentle cleanser, to remove the buildup of dirt and oils that accumulates on the area under your mask. Make sure to wear a mask that’s either clean or new after you wash your face so that you don’t reapply the same gunk you just washed off.
Because friction plays such a big role in the development of maskne, keeping your skin moisturized can reduce that source of irritation. Prevent friction by applying a thin layer of moisturizer before you put on your mask. The dermatologist who advised on creation of the Nurx acne treatment plan recommends patients use a non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, dye-free moisturizing cream that comes in a jar with a screw-on lid (because lotions dispensed with a pump tend to be watery and evaporate quickly). Wearing a moisturizing makeup may also help, but be careful: too much makeup or certain kinds that irritate the skin may make the problem worse.
If your situation allows you to safely do so, take regular breaks from wearing your mask. The American Dermatological Association recommends spending 15 minutes with your mask off for every 4 hours you’ve kept your mask on. Regularly giving your skin some time to “breathe” is important for preventing bacterial buildup and clogged pores.
How should I treat maskne?
If it’s too late for prevention, there are things you can do to help clear up maskne more quickly.
As with prevention, regular face washing is an important aspect of maskne treatment. For over the counter options, our dermatology medical advisor suggests using cleansers containing antimicrobial benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid 2%, which unclogs pores. One key thing to remember is not to be too aggressive with your maskne treatment. Definitely do not use exfoliating scrubs, which can make maskne worse. Like so many aspects of pandemic life, patience is key.
Although maskne is a recent phenomenon, the treatments for it are similar to those for other kinds of acne. If the prevention measures outlined above and over-the-counter treatments aren’t enough to solve your acne, you may want to consult a medical provider about prescription treatments. Request acne treatment from the Nurx medical team to receive your personalized care plan and prescription medications delivered to your door.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.