How to avoid 'maskne': reasons for mask-induced acne and tips to prevent breakouts

Tips and tricks from the pros on how to prevent or treat ‘mask acne’ and irritation

What is ‘Maskne’ and how to avoid mask-induced acne
(Image credit: Reiss)

In what has to be one of the most awkward-sounding portmanteaus ever, “maskne” or “mask acne” is a term that’s been doing the rounds on Google search trends in recent months. 

It refers to breakouts people have been seeing on their skin as a result of the new guidance to wear a face covering when in public places.

Maskne is often caused as a result of the environment created from the regular use of such masks, for instance, a combination of sweat, the microbiome balance being upset and bacteria breeding and pores becoming blocked which can lead to breakouts. 

What does wearing a mask do to our skin?

When you wear a face mask, friction is created due to the pressure, stretching and rubbing of the material

Aesthetic Doctor, Dr Rita Rakus, explains that it’s this friction between the material and the skin which can cause irritation, leading to breakouts on the lower part of your face.

“As skin is blocked and closed off from air, mixed in with our breath and bacteria from our mouth, skin can become inflamed,” she says. “In warmer temperatures, our skin tends to sweat when we wear a mask and we can find ourselves adjusting our masks and moving them, which can increase friction being caused against the skin.”

It’s also believed that those who already suffer from acne and eczema or have hormonal skin may suffer more from wearing face masks, as the skin becomes even more irritated.

How to prevent and treat Maskne: 7 tips from the pros

So, how can we best avoid the irritation and breakouts of maskne when wearing a face covering? Here are seven suggestions from doctors and skin experts to help you not only treat maskne, but stop you getting it in the first place. 

(Image credit: Foreo)

1. Wash your mask regularly

If you’ve purchased a reusable mask, it’s important that you mash it on a regular basis. Dr Rakus advises washing your mask “as soon as you arrive home after use to avoid any germs from lingering next time you use the mask”. She adds: “Disposable masks are advised to be disposed of as soon as they have been used.”

(Image credit: Inka)

2. Try to avoid make up

Makeup can sometimes block pores, and by wearing a face mask on top of this, it can further contribute to the flare-up of maskne. Dr Rakus says that you should go make-up free where possible or use mineral makeup if you suffer from breakouts.

“My favourite brand that gives amazing coverage and looks natural is INIKA’s Organic Loose Mineral Foundation SPF25,” she says. “After applying, plump and refresh your skin throughout the day using CosMedix’s Mystic Hydrating Treatment.”

She states that this spray-on moisturiser is a “must-have” product due to its anti-bacterial and viral properties and can be used directly over mineral makeup or any time of the day to refresh and clean the skin.

(Image credit: Is Clinical)

3. Use a Vitamin C and Retinol serum

To help reduce maskne, Dr Somji of Dr Medispa recommends using a face serum containing Vitamin C and Retinol, as they work synergistically together to fight acne.

“Lipids are also essential in the treatment of acne and hemp oil and primrose oil will help repair the lipid layer, reducing soreness and redness,” he says, adding that Pyridoxine, part of the B6 complex, regulates sebum production and is, therefore, a must for moderate acne.

He recommends iS’ Clinical Active Serum is an effective serum hitting these criteria.

4. Keep to a light skincare regime 

“Have a good regime but don’t over complicate it,” suggests Dr Sophie Shotter of Illuminate Skin Clinics. This skin doctor who went back to the NHS to help with the pandemic and wore PPE every day, so has personal experience of the perils of mask-wearing on the skin.

“The more products you layer on in the morning underneath your mask the more likely you are to get problems,” she explains. “Keep it simple with light antioxidant protection, lightweight hydration and a good sunscreen”.

(Image credit: Cosmedix)

5. Cleansing is vital

As wearing a mask can cause the skin to sweat and pores to become blocked with sebum and bacteria, double cleansing morning and night is essential for keeping the pores clear of irritating toxins, affirms Abi Oleck, celebrity facialist and skin expert at BeauSkin London

“Start with an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup and/or a gentle cleanser to remove the daily pollution on your skin,” she says. “Follow with a treatment cleanser - a gel cleanser works more deeply and can also be left on the skin as a mask to brighten and smooth.”

Oleck also advises using a cleanser with a low pH of 3.5 that is made with either L-lactic or a plant-derived Salicylic Acid. CosMedix’s Clarify Salicylic Foaming Cleanser fits that bill as it unblocks pores and is suitable for sensitive and dry skin as well. 

“The Foreo sonic cleansing brush made with soft silicone is [also] excellent for giving a deep cleanse and enhances the health of the barrier that protects against UV damage,” she adds.

(Image credit: Ultrasun)

6. Sunscreen is a must

You should be wearing sunscreen at all times, adds Oleck - a minimum of SPF30, even if some of your face is covered as sunburn can worsen inflammation on your skin and lead to breakouts. Tinted options are good alternatives to wearing makeup, too, she adds.

“One of my female clients’ favourites is the Derma-Quest’s Sheer Zinc 30SPF Tinted Sunkissed for darker complexions and Genosys’ Tinted Blemish Balm 30SPF for fairer skin, with both of them providing great coverage too,” she claims.

As for non-tinted versions, UltraSun’s Sports transparent sun protection spray 30SPF is a good shout, especially if you’re quite active, mainly for its stay-on power, ease of application and light texture.

7. Be clever with time 

Clinical lead at Dermatica, Dr Tim Jollyman, says limit the time you wear your mask by only wearing it where you have been advised you must, for example, on trains, in stations, in shops, etc.

“If you are noticing pimples appearing where your mask sits, take it off when you are outside of these areas,” he says. “You don’t need to wear a mask in your own car for example. The less time you are wearing a mask the less likely it will irritate your skin.”

He also advises to keep the time when you do need to wear a mask to a minimum. For example, by planning what you need to buy from the shops before you leave and reduce your browsing time. 

How to choose the right face covering to avoid Maskne

When choosing a face mask to avoid maskne, it is best to consider those which cover your mouth, nose and chin yet have fastenings which keep the mask securely in place. This will help limit how much it can move across your face. If your skin is sensitive to certain materials, it is best to avoid those in case it leads to a skin reaction. 

(Image credit: ASICS)

Some really good, non-irritating masks that I have worn and found don’t cause irritation include the new ASICS’ Runner’s face cover and UnderArmor’s Facemask for Athletes, both of which have an air pockets between mouth and mask to provide better airflow, wick sweat and give you plenty of space between the skin and the material. The Gentsy HQ Face Mask is a favourite, too, as it features nifty adjustable ear loops, strap and nose clip to fit every face size.

Lastly, the Body Doctor’s AB Mask Reusable Antibacterial Mask is a good shout due to its antibacterial protection. Using skin-friendly, patented Polygiene technology, does not interfere with the skin's natural bacterial flora.

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Lee Bell

Lee Bell is a freelance journalist & copywriter specialising in technology, health, grooming and how the latest innovations are shaking up the lifestyle space. From national newspapers to specialist-interest magazines and digital titles, Lee has written for some of the world’s most respected publications during his 11 years as a journalist.