Maskne Issues: How To Prevent Mask Acne

How to Prevent Mask Acne, or Maskne

A common complaint among my friends and myself lately has been the sudden uptick in breakouts since wearing masks. As someone with reactive skin anyway, maskne has been a persistent issue for me since the start of social distancing. I was at a loss of how to prevent mask acne, or how to treat it, so I did some digging.

It doesn’t look like masks are going away any time soon, and we should definitely keep wearing them. But, I was hoping there was some way to prevent mask acne from flaring up in the first place. Some of the information I found surprised me, so I wanted to share it with you all.

What Causes Mask Acne?

I’m not a dermatologist, obviously. But as someone who loves skincare and has dealt with acne issues for some time, I think about skincare with a certain type of logic. In my mind, mask acne seemed to be caused by the humidity that accumulates inside the mask.

While this moisture-rich environment is certainly part of it, it seems that maskne is also caused simply by the friction of the fabric against the skin. According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe, who spoke with CNN about mask-related acne flare ups, this is a type of acne is called “acne mechanics.”

Acne Mechanica – The Technical Term for Maskne

Acne Mechanica is the result of the mechanical friction of fabric against the skin, according to Dr. Bowe’s interview with CNN. Bowe explained that the combination of moisture trapped under the fabric, combined with the friction and pressure exerted on the tiny hair follicles on our faces, can result in acne flare ups.

This is not a new phenomenon, just something more of us are seeing in our daily lives. People who payed sports with helmets, chin guards, and other such equipment may have dealt with the issue before.

How to Prevent Mask Acne

Unfortunately, as long as we are wearing masks because of the pandemic, there doesn’t seem to be much that we can do to fully prevent mask acne.

Personally, I try to limit the time that I wear masks, which means limiting the time I go out. This is relatively easy for me to do, since I work from home.

However, I was interested to see that time wearing a mask doesn’t 100% correlate with maskne. In an interview with Northwestern Medicine, dermatologist Walter J. Liszewski noted that the duration of time waring a mask doesn’t necessarily correlate with acne flare ups. “I’m seeing as much mask acne in people who work in health care and wear a face mask for eight hours a day as in people who are just wearing their mask to the grocery store,” according to Dr. Lisewski.

How to Treat Mask Acne

Since maskne is pretty much here to stay, it’s probably most productive to turn to treatments for it. Again, I was surprised to read that many dermatologists recommend sticking with gentle skin care products, as opposed to more abrasive things such as retinols. However, upon learning more about just what causes the acne, it does make sense.

*Update (7/21/2021): Since publishing this post in September 2020, I have gone back to getting semi-regular Hydrafacials to great success. While I am still dealing with some occasional flare ups (especially along my chin), the Hydrafacials have really helped keep these fewer and farther between than before. For more information on these facials, I recommend checking out their website here.

First Things First, Consider Seeing a Dermatologist

Of course, seeing a dermatologist may be the best option, particularly if the acne flare ups are just getting worse. This is something I have been considering, and am considering even more seriously having read up on the topic.

Wash Your Masks Regularly

Invest in some reusable cotton masks (like these) and a delicates laundry bag. Wash your masks regularly.

Some articles I saw recommended washing them after ever use. If you wear them all day, then this is for sure a good idea. If you wear them for shorter periods, it may seem reasonable to wear them again before washing.

Personally, I’ve been washing mine roughly after every two outings. However, after reading this CNN article, I think I’m going to go with washing them after each wear.

Stick With Gentle Skin Care Products

As someone who loves a good retinol and has great results with acids, I was surprised to read that many anti-aging and typical acne products can exasperate the maskne issue. It is recommended to reduce usage of such products, and exclusively reserve them for your nighttime routine.

According to Dr. Seemal Desai, spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatologists: “You don’t want to end up with something that is an open area on the skin, and create a breakdown, tear or stress-induced flare.”

So, opt for a super gentle cleanser and fragrance-free moisturizers, especially if you’re applying products in the morning before donning your mask. Apparently, wearing masks intensifies product delivery to the skin, so keep that in mind for your morning routine.

Personally, I’ve found using witch hazel as a toner has been helping my skin. It’s a simple step you can do throughout the day to remove excess oils and sweat without actually washing your face.

Facial Toner FAQ: What Does Toner Do & How To Use

Check out my toner guide for more frequently asked questions about this skincare step, along with other tried and true favorites.

Don’t Touch Your Face

This is so much easier said than done.

We all intuitively know touching our skin or messing with zits can make them worse, but the habit is incredibly difficult to break. Do your best (I say as I rest my chin on my hand…).

Don’t Start a New Skincare Routine Right Now

Basically, now is not the time to start incorporating retinol into your skincare routine if you’ve never tried it before. Stick with the tried and trues in your repertoire, the things you know your skin handles well.

Skip Makeup or Go With Minimal Coverage

Wearing heavy makeup when you’re sweaty is the worst. We all know this. That’s why summertime makeup often is so much lighter than other seasons.

So, even as we enter fall and winter, wearing makeup with a mask can mirror this summertime phenomenon. Go for a tinted moisturizer instead of full coverage foundation. Skip makeup under the mask all together when you can.

Resources & Further Reading

*This post was originally published September 14, 2020. It was most recently updated on July 21, 2021.