Why your face mask is giving you ‘maskne’ – and the best products to combat it

Our lives have changed in many unexpected ways recently, but one thing we certainly didn’t see coming was a brand-new skin complaint caused by wearing a face mask: ‘maskne’. LISA NIVEN-PHILLIPS speaks to New York dermatologist DR DENDY ENGELMAN to find out more about the new acne phenomenon


Maskne… What at first seemed like a new buzzword, created by marketeers to cover the reported breakouts, redness and sensitivity seemingly caused by wearing face coverings, has actually turned out to be a genuine problem, with Google reporting an increase in searches for ‘maskne’ of over 800 percent as of July 2020. Even the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has now released advice on how to tackle it. But what is maskne? And how does it affect your skin and what can you do to prevent maskne?

What is maskne?

As the name ‘maskne’ suggests, acne around the mouth and chin caused by wearing a face covering is the key characteristic of maskne – though those with sensitive skin might be more likely to experience redness, raised bumps and contact dermatitis. “I am finding that my patients are struggling more with breakouts, particularly those with oily, combination and acneic skin types,” says Dr Dendy Engelman. “Also, some patients are seeing irritation around the area where the mask sits. The friction of the mask, sweat and heat can cause irritation, rawness and acne.” So, whether you’re blemish-prone or more of a sensitive type, the problem is effectively two-fold: it’s both the humid conditions beneath your mask’s material and the physical contact of the mask itself that can wreak havoc.

What maskne treatments should I use?

If you’ve been sticking to your regular skincare regime and have noticed the early signs of maskne, you might want to consider switching up the products you’re using. As Engelman points out, heat and moisture have the potential to break down skincare actives. So, as well as causing your makeup to clog pores (trapped air and a warm, moist environment is blemish-prone skin’s worst nightmare), your mask might also be rendering your vitamin C skincare serum useless.

In the era of maskne, cleansing should be a priority. In fact, Engelman suggests a good double-cleanse every time you’ve worn your mask. “Just like our hands, we need to increase the frequency with which we cleanse our faces,” she advises. “First, use an oil-based cleanser to lift bacteria, makeup and grime away. Second, use a gentle cleanser to rinse off all the impurities, moving in circular motions.” Exfoliation is also key. Engelman recommends a gentle chemical exfoliant to decongest pores and break down sebum, without stripping the skin. Don’t skimp on your moisturizer, either. “It is incredibly important to support the skin barrier right now. Moisturizing will prevent hydration from escaping the skin and shield against bacteria and contaminants,” she says.

Does the type of mask you wear make a difference?

Actually, yes. The AAD recommends a mask with a snug but comfortable fit, made from a soft, natural and breathable fabric such as cotton – synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester and rayon are more likely to cause irritation. A good fit will not only help to protect you and others from Covid-19, but also prevent you from having to constantly readjust your mask, which reduces the spread of bacteria to your face and stops it from rubbing against your skin. Engelman says washing your mask after every use is essential, as is being mindful of how you wash it. “It’s possible that you can be allergic to certain chemicals in your detergent, or if your laundry machine is not doing a good job during its rinse, there may be residual product,” she warns. “Use detergents and fabric softeners free from fragrance and dye. The majority of laundry detergents and fabric softeners include them – even some products marketed for baby laundry. So be alert!”

What are the best maskne skincare products?

Not all masks are created equal, so choose yours wisely. Dr. Barbara Sturm’s face mask is predictably chic and is made with skin in mind, thanks to anti-microbial, anti-bacterial nano-silver particles infused into the fabric. It’s also soft against the skin to prevent unnecessary rubbing or inflammation-induced friction, so is ideal for those predisposed to irritation or acne. As an added boon, because it’s breathable, it can be worn with glasses without worry of them fogging up. As with any mask, regular and thorough washing will ensure it’s free from dirt and oil, which can be absorbed from your skin into the fabric and lead to more breakouts.

While it’s tempting to wash your face every time you wear and remove your mask, it’s actually more disruptive to the skin’s delicate protective barrier to cleanse more than a couple of times a day. Instead, make sure your daily cleanses are with a product that contains salicylic acid. A beta hydroxy acid famed for its dirt-dissolving abilities, salicylic acid is an excellent ingredient to have on call to remove the makeup, grime and dead skin cells that accumulate in your pores and have the potential to clog skin and cause breakouts. It also helps reduce inflammation, which can arise from the constant friction caused by your mask pushing against your skin.

If blemishes do persist, it’s a good idea to keep a targeted treatment on hand that can help manage the severity and reduce the spread of bacteria. These invisible zit stickers contain a host of ingredients, such as salicylic acid and sytenol, that unclog pores and promote skin healing, and vitamin C to brighten. As well as being discreet and keeping the blemish contained, they’re a good alternative to cream formulas, which can get smudged by your mask or dissolved if you perspire underneath it.

Friction caused by frequent mask-wearing can break down the ceramides or lipids that hold the skin cells together, causing your skin barrier to become compromised. As well as irritation as a result of prolonged mask-wearing, some fabrics can absorb moisture from your skin, causing further disruption. To keep skin hydrated and less sore, look out for products containing ceramides, like these clever single-dose portable capsules. Containing skin-identical ceramides to support natural lipid levels, use twice daily to help keep skin feeling resilient, supple and protected.

Dehydrated skin is more prone to irritation and sensitivity, so don’t avoid using moisturizer in the hope that it will keep your complexion from feeling less oily under your mask – you’re only likely to aggravate things. Instead, look for an oil-free option that will soothe sore skin but won’t overload it – a particularly good option if you’re prone to oiliness anyway. This lightweight moisturizer keeps skin hydrated and pores balanced. It also contains amino-acid derivatives, which help stimulate collagen and elastin function so that skin maintains its healthy structure.

Swapping one mask for another may seem counterintuitive, but not when it’s a state-of-the-art LED mask that will work to improve the health of skin. The five different color settings address myriad skin issues, but it’s the bacteria-minimizing blue-light setting that’s especially valuable when it comes to targeting blemishes and congestion. To help inflammation and sensitized skin, program your LED mask to the white infrared setting afterwards; these rays promote cellular healing at a deeper level to get skin back on track and in optimum health.

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