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asian woman with acne from wearing mask

Maskne is real, here’s how to treat it

asian woman with acne from wearing mask

How masks and COVID-19 are changing skin care routines

Is wearing a face covering causing your skin to break out?

There’s no doubt that masks are one of the most proactive things you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are all wearing them, and that’s a good thing. But one unexpected result of mask-wearing is an increase in breakouts and acne, even among adults who don’t usually have issues with their skin. It’s so common there’s even a name for it: maskne.

Why are so many people breaking out from wearing masks? Masks trap air when you talk and breathe, creating a warm, humid environment against your skin that encourages the growth of bacteria and yeast. Combined with friction from the mask, this causes skin irritation. And that irritation can cause pimples, rosacea and even a yeast infection in and around your mouth.

How to protect skin while wearing a mask

With acne, the most effective cure is prevention. This means taking the time to care for your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends doing the following to keep maskne at bay:

  • Wear the right mask. Choose masks made from natural fibers, like cotton, which will allow the skin to breathe. Avoid synthetic fibers like polyester and rayon. Make sure the mask fits snugly, but comfortably across the bridge of your nose and beneath your chin.
  • Keep your mask clean. Wash your mask after every use with fragrance-free detergent and rinse twice, then put it in the dryer. Drying will help minimize the chance of COVID-19 as well as skin irritations and infections.
  • Changing your mask frequently. If you need to wear a mask for prolonged periods of time this is especially important. Also, change your mask after exercise or sweating heavily.
  • Wash and moisturize your face every day. Use a mild, fragrance-free cleanser, followed immediately by a moisturizer appropriate for your skin type. Look for moisturizers with ceramides, hyaluronic acid or dimethicone, all of which support the skin’s natural epidermal barrier. If you have acne-prone skin, use an oil-free or gel moisturizer.
  • Protect your lips. Apply petroleum jelly after washing your face, before putting on your mask and before bed. Make sure you only apply it to your lips.
  • Hold the makeup. Underneath your mask, makeup can clog your pores, leading to breakouts. If you must use makeup, choose products labeled “non-comedogenic” or “oil free.” Keep makeup removing wipes on hand to take off the makeup when you can.
  • Simplify your skin care routine. Even when worn for just a short time, wearing a mask can make your skin more sensitive. Avoid trying harsh products, like exfoliants, chemical peels and retinoids, for the first time. And embrace skin care basics: gentle washing and moisturizing.

How to treat mask acne and mask breakouts

If you do develop maskne, don’t treat it like regular acne. Traditional acne treatments can be harsh, causing delayed healing and possibly making your skin irritation worse. And keep in mind, you’ll still need to wear a mask on top of that irritation, so it can create a vicious cycle. You’ll need to treat your skin with a gentle touch:

  • Stop using harsh skin care products and medications. This includes salicylic acid acne treatments, anti-aging products, peels, scrubs and at-home light devices.
  • Don’t use makeup on irritated skin. Makeup can worsen mask-induced skin problems. If you feel you must apply makeup, use oil-free products or mineral-based makeup.
  • Spot treat with benzoyl peroxide. Use a 2.5 or 5 percent concentration at night. If you use retinol, alternate between that and the benzoyl peroxide.

If your acne persists despite careful skin care, it could be the result of other issues related to COVID-19: pandemic stress and diet. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article in June linking adult acne to dairy and a high-glycemic diet.

Is it maskne or something else?

If the irritation on your face is itchy or looks like a rash, it might be contact dermatitis. If that is the case, it can be treated with hydrocortisone cream. But you should see a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment because hydrocortisone cream can exacerbate acne.

Another mask-related skin issue is candida overgrowth. The symptoms are similar to acne —red bumps or pus-filled pimples — but include irritation, cracking, bleeding and redness at the corners of the mouth. Luckily, candida infections are easy to treat with the same antifungal creams used to treat athlete’s foot.

Rosacea is another condition triggered by masks and often mistaken for acne. Like acne, it appears as red patches with teeny-tiny bumps. But it usually covers a larger surface area. Unfortunately, if you treat rosacea with anti-acne products, it can make the condition worse. Identification by a dermatologist is key so you can ensure you are using products that heal rosacea.

When to see a dermatologist for maskne

While most mask-related skin issues can be treated at home, if you aren’t sure about what is irritating your skin, or if your symptoms don’t improve, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Visit our online doctor directory  to locate a Roper St. Francis Healthcare dermatologist near you.

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