Maskne : The Struggle is Real

Faceless woman having pimples and blackheads after-wearing protective medical mask landscape
Susie Hamilton Lutronic Skin Specialist headshot
Susie Hamilton
Lutronic Skin Specialist
Published On: July 15, 2023

What is “maskne”?

The scientific term is “acne mechanica”, a type of acne caused by excessive friction, heat and rubbing on the skin. It is typically experienced by athletes from the masks and straps they have to wear for prolonged periods but with the arrival of COVID-19, maskne has become more common as wearing face coverings is now an essential part of our everyday lives.

Why is your mask making you break out?

Acne bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes) lives on the skin of all human beings. That might not be the most pleasant thing to hear, but it’s just a part of the natural microbiome that hangs out on our bodies with all the other bacteria. Most of the time, acne bacteria plays nice with the other bacteria but once it decides to colonize in the pores and hair follicles and feed on the dead skin and oil in there, it presents itself as an infection/acne breakout.

Sweat and the humidity created by breathing into your mask is a breeding ground for P. acnes bacteria, which likes a warm, moist environment to grow in. Masks can increase your risk of getting clogged pores and breakouts because they act like an occlusive, not allowing the skin to “breathe”, causing oil, sweat, dirt and makeup to become trapped in the pores. Prolonged wearing of a mask causes friction on the skin, which can lead to inflammation and irritation, leaving it susceptible to infection. All of this can be a recipe for disaster for clear skin!

So what can you do to help prevent maskne?

  1. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 to others. 100% cotton is effective but breathable, reducing sweat and moisture on the skin.
  2. Wash masks frequently to remove any sweat, oil and dirt buildup.
  3. Reevaluate your skincare routine/products. Because of the occlusion caused by the mask, active products like retinols and acids will be delivered further into the skin, increasing the risk of compromising your moisture barrier, which can make you susceptible to irritation and breakouts. Only apply actives at night and reduce or stop usage if any irritation becomes present. A more basic skincare routine might be more suitable for you right now if you are required to wear a mask for prolonged periods of time.
  4. Keep your skin well-moisturized to decrease friction from the mask.
  5. Take a break from makeup. Since the lower half of your face will be covered anyway, consider skipping the foundation/concealer in that area to eliminate one more thing that could clog your pores. Try a tinted moisturizer if you still feel like you need a little coverage.
  6. Wash your face with a mild cleanser every night to remove any makeup, oil and dirt that have accumulated on your skin throughout the day. Follow with a hydrating moisturizer.
  7. When required to wear a mask for prolonged periods, keep several clean masks with you and switch them out periodically.
  8. Drink lots of water. Keeping hydrated is essential for healthy skin.
  9. Reduce stress whenever possible. Stress is one of the main triggers of acne and the acne itself causes more stress, becoming a vicious cycle. Finding ways to decompress is very important, especially right now during this particularly trying time, not only for your skin but for your overall health.
  10. Consult your dermatologist if you’re experiencing any rashes, allergic reactions or severe acne.

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