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Is wearing a mask regularly causing you some skin irritation or pimples? Here’s how to treat and prevent maskne

Yep, you read that right — maskne, or acne caused by wearing a mask. If you’re not dealing with it (lucky you), you probably know someone experiencing skin irritation and pesky pimples from wearing a face mask. Dr. Christine Cabell, Geisinger dermatologist, helps us understand why it happens and how to treat (and prevent) it.

What causes maskne?

While maskne may be a new concern for many of us who are now wearing masks regularly to slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s a familiar issue for those who wore masks before the pandemic, like healthcare professionals.

The medical term for maskne is acne mechanica, which is acne triggered by excess heat, friction or rubbing of the skin. “The friction and humidity caused by wearing a mask can lead to inflammation and irritation of the skin, which can contribute to a rash or acne,” explains Dr. Cabell.

Wearing masks for prolonged periods of time can create new skin issues or make existing skin conditions (like acne) worse.

And since ditching our masks isn’t an option, here are some tips for treating and preventing maskne.

How to treat maskne

If you’re starting to develop acne from wearing a mask, Dr. Cabell suggests starting with an over-the-counter acne treatment, such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or adapalene gel. These ingredients can be found in topical treatments or cleansers in your local drugstore.

“Be sure to use these treatments a few hours before wearing a mask, or even strictly at bedtime,” says Dr. Cabell. “Applying them right before you mask can lead to more irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.”

How to keep maskne from happening

Since we’re going to be wearing masks for the foreseeable future, managing and preventing maskne will be ongoing tasks for many people.

Dr. Cabell recommends following some simple tips to help keep your skin clear, including:

Trying a 100 percent cotton mask

A cotton mask is a good option as it allows your skin to breathe, while protecting others around you. Remember, your mask should fit snugly and cover your nose and mouth.

“If you’re wearing a cotton mask, be sure to wash it frequently with warm water and gentle detergent,” says Dr. Cabell. “This will help remove oil and dead skin cells that can collect on the inside of the mask.”

Wearing surgical masks? Avoid reusing them as there’s no good way to clean them.

Adopting a simple skincare routine

A simple skincare routine can go a long way toward keeping your skin clear. Stick to a gentle cleanser and light moisturizer, and use products that are fragrance-free, non-comedogenic and oil-free. And if you’re spending any time in the sun, don’t forget to use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30.

“After you’re done wearing your mask for the day, be sure to cleanse and moisturize,” recommends Dr. Cabell. “And if you use treatments like retinol, avoid using them right before wearing your mask.”

Skipping your makeup routine

The combination of makeup and sweat under your mask can lead to irritated skin and clogged pores, which can exacerbate acne. “Makeup can also transfer to the inside of your mask, which can cause some issues if you aren’t washing it frequently,” says Dr. Cabell.

When to see a doctor

If over-the-counter treatments aren’t working or you’re struggling with severe acne, like cystic acne (where cysts form deep under your skin), it may be time to see a dermatologist. In fact, you can do it from the comfort of your own home: Learn more about telemedicine.

Next steps:

Learn more about Christine Cabell, MD
Face masks: Know your options
The science of saliva: Why wearing a face mask matters

Female health care worker with mask on

Caring for the skin you’re in

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