How to Treat Breakouts Caused by Face Masks
Over the past few months, you may have noticed that your skin is breaking out—particularly around your mouth—more than unusual. There are plenty of factors that could account for these blemishes, but it's likely that your face mask has something to do with it. The CDC-recommended face coverings are essential when it comes to protecting both ourselves and others from COVID-19. But your face isn't used to being covered with fabric—let alone fabric washed with potentially-irritating ingredients—which means a few breakouts are to be expected.
In fact, many facialists and dermatologists have been speaking out about this very complexion concern. "So many clients are asking us about how they can treat and prevent breakouts caused by face masks," says celebrity master esthetician Sarah Akram. "Breakouts are caused by bacteria that thrive in clogged pores. When you have a mask pressing against your skin all day, dirt, debris, impurities, and even dead skin cells get trapped in your pores." And thus, breakouts occur. Board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner says that breakouts are also caused by the way the fabric comes in contact with the skin. "Direct friction creates inflammation around the follicles and subsequently breakouts, known as acne mechanica," he explains. What's more, Akram says that some folks experience breakouts due to allergic reactions to the mask material or the detergent used to clean it.
During a time when masks are required just about everywhere, experiencing breakouts because of them can be frustrating. But don't fret just yet: There are several ways to treat and prevent what's now being dubbed "maskne," many of which we outline here.
Wear masks made of natural fibers.
"Natural fibers are gentler on the skin than synthetic fibers," Dr. Zeichner says. "In high-risk environments, synthetic fibers used in medical-grade respirators may be necessary. Otherwise, I generally recommend cotton masks."
Don't wear makeup under your mask.
No matter how breathable your mask is, board-certified dermatologist Patricia Wexler says to avoid wearing makeup under it. Pairing makeup with the humidity from your breath is a bad combination and doing so can lead to even more breakouts.
Wash your masks after every wear.
As much as you may love one single mask, it's important to have a few at your disposal. "A build up of oil, dirt, and makeup on the mask can make skin irritation worse and may even create an environment that allows for overgrowth of microorganisms," Dr. Zeichner says, noting that this is why it's so important to wash masks after each use. This is also simply best practices—you should be cleaning your covering after each wear to best protect yourself and others against the coronavirus, as well.
Use fragrance-free detergent.
In addition to washing your mask after each use, it's important to pay close attention to what you're washing it with. "Direct contact of the mask against the skin can increase the likelihood of developing skin allergies, which is why fragrance and dye-free detergents are best," Dr. Zeichner adds. Pro tip: If washing your mask after every use feels like too much work, BalmLabs' chief dermatologist Robin Schaffran recommends opting for single-wear options. "Disposable paper masks will definitely help in reducing breakouts," she says, noting that they reduce the risk of putting skin back in contact with acne-causing bacteria.
Wash your face morning and night.
To effectively treat and prevent mask-caused acne, twice-daily cleansing is a must. "Use a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and oil from the skin before wearing the mask," Dr. Zeichner says, explaining that it's important to cleanse the skin without compromising the integrity of the skin barrier. The best way to do so is to use a mild, non-irritating cleanser.
If your skin gets especially sweaty throughout the day, board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman recommends a double-cleanse at night to ensure all bacteria is removed from the skin's surface. "First, use an oil-based cleanser to lift bacteria, grime, and any makeup away from the skin," she instructs. "Second, use a gentle cleanser to rinse all the impurities away."
Get comfortable with chemical exfoliants.
Since masks trap humidity, which then mixes with dirt and debris and causes more bacteria to grow, it's important to rid your skin of any buildup. While cleansing is a great first step, gently exfoliating with a chemical exfoliant, like Biologique Recherche's Lotion P50 ($67, shoprescuespa.com) will help further lessen the likelihood of breakouts. If, however, you prefer as few steps as possible, you can combine your cleansing with your exfoliating by using HoliFrog's Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash ($38, dermstore.com).
Keep a spot-treatment on hand.
As with any breakout, it helps to have a benzoyl peroxide topical nearby to help quell irritation and inflammation. Akram recommends Environ's SebuSpot ($44.99, conceptskincare.com), while Dr. Zeichner touts Neutrogena's Acne On the Spot Treatment ($6.47, target.com). Whichever you choose, you can expect a diminished blemish by morning.
Be mindful of the ingredients in your products.
If you know you're going to have to go out during the day, Dr. Schaffran says to avoid using irritating or drying ingredients like retinol or benzoyl peroxide under your mask. "Instead, I recommend using gentle, non-irritating products that contain both hydrating ingredients, like squalane and hyaluronic acid, and anti-inflammatory ingredients, like niacinamide or hemp-derived CBD," she says. Dr. Wexler adds to this, noting that ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides are especially beneficial during this time, as they create a barrier between your skin and your mask. This doesn't mean you can't use your favorite anti-aging products—simply hold off until nighttime, so that your skin will be able to benefit from them in open air.
Let your skin breathe.
It is beneficial to take breaks from makeup, and the same is true of wearing masks. This in no way means going out in public without one on—rather, be cognizant of how often you do go out, which is ultimately essential in preventing the continued spread of the coronavirus, as well. The more you stay home, the less you'll need to wear a mask—and the happier your skin will be.