Maskne: How to prevent face mask acne

Required face coverings have nearly everyone feeling like Darth Vader these days. We’re not in a galaxy far, far away, nor are we in Chernobyl navigating a nuclear crisis; the coronavirus pandemic has made mask and face coverings as common of a sight as a kid glued to a smartphone.

What was once annoying and questionable has been proven as a way to help stop the spread of the COVID-19. The early irritation of the straps wrapped around your face is now like putting on your shoes, everywhere you go your mask goes, too. To the supermarket, to the park, on a run, everywhere.

But as the summer months approach us and the US continues to grapple with social distancing measures as economies reopen, mask-wearing will continue. That means odd tan lines and sweatstaches are inevitable, the sauna-like humidity behind an N95 mask making it feel like you’re hiking through a desert, and most likely, pimples, or better known as “maskne.”

Maskne isn’t a new skin development, but it’s become part of the vernacular with the rise in skin irritation around the face and mouth due to mask-wearing in the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Since March, Dr. Nava Greenfield, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, said she’s noticed an uptick in patients having problems dealing with annoying acne that wasn’t there before.

“[Masks] can cause a lot of humidity and sweat,” Greenfield told Ladders recently. “The build-up of that inside the mask is not really great for cleaning out your sweat glands and making sure that things are adequately cleaned. When that moisture is there for a long period of time, it can cause breakouts.”

In addition to build-up inside the mask, the mask can cause irritation based on the fabrics and material used to cover your face, which can cause a breakout, Greenfield explained. Typically seen in athletes that wear protective gear on their face, Greenfield said she’s noticed how people who’ve never had acne issues in the past are now dealing with some form of irritation due to masks.

“Maskne is totally happening,” she said. “Any time there’s a major shift like that, your skin notices and sometimes it reacts negatively. People are definitely talking about it and people are concerned. Masks are not helping.”

How to prevent maskne and unwanted pimples

While masks aren’t going to be disappearing anytime soon, Greenfield suggested it might be the time to establish some type of skincare routine to help prevent breakouts.

Exfoliating is at the top of her list. Whether you’ve never exfoliated before or it’s part of your weekly regimen, Greenfield explained it’s a good way to get rid of build-up and allow sweat glands to release contents in order to prevent extended build-up. She also suggested looking into an acne face wash, which can help control the bacteria living in sweat glands that can cause inflammation and acne.

Products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid face wash that can be anti-bacterial will help maintain skin protection. A Clindamycin lotion could work too, but you’ll need a prescription from your dermatologist.

“You need to start using more products and really think more about the area around the mouth,” she explained. “It’s a common area to get acne, but it’s more common to get it on the cheeks, forehead, chin. I don’t think people are focused around the mouth, but now’s that time when we really need to focus on that area too.”

Greenfield also stressed the importance of washing your mask often in order to keep it clean.

But what about the sun?

While a mask may prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it’s not going to stop the sun.

Whether it’ a social distancing picnic or a day at the beach, Greenfield stressed for everyone to wear sunscreen around their mouths and lips even while wearing a mask.

“You really want to be wearing sunscreen, especially in these early parts of summer when your skin has not been exposed to the sun yet,” she said. “This is really the highest risk time for developing marks and not being careful about it. Your skin has not been exposed to the sun for so many months, especially in quarantine. This is really the highest risk period.”