Is Wearing a Face Mask Causing My Acne? (Or Is That Just the Stress of Being Human Right Now?)

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)
·4 min read

Remember the quaint days when the only face masks we talked about were in reference to skincare? Now, face masks = face coverings and with that comes a new skin concern for some: acne. (And in fact, mask related acne has become so common lately, there’s a new term for it: maskne.) We asked Dr. Tiffany J. Libby, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, to clear a few things up for us.

“I am definitely seeing the side effects that come from having a face covering in contact with your skin for the better part of the day. Masks, while important for our safety, can trap in humidity, dirt, oil and sweat and if you are not cleaning them properly or are reusing them for prolonged periods of time,” explains Libby.

How exactly does wearing a mask cause acne, doc? 

“When oil and debris clog the pores, this manifests as whiteheads and blackheads. Any friction and irritation from the mask can push bacteria into your skin or create micro tears, which allow for easier entry of bacteria and dirt and can lead to further inflammation,” says Libby.

What can I do to treat maskne? 

The best thing to do is keep a simple skincare routine. “When our skin becomes irritated or breaks out, our immediate tendency is to throw the kitchen sink at it and try every product in our cabinets,” says Libby. “But this usually leads to more irritation and worsened acne.”

For a gentle, but effective skincare regimen, Libby recommends using a benzoyl peroxide cleanser once a day to target bacteria and remove excess oil. Follow up with a gentle, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic moisturizer with hyaluronic acid to help hydrate and restore the skin’s protective barrier. Lastly, she recommends applying a pea-sized amount of Differin Gel 0.1% (which is an over-the-counter retinoid) to acne-prone areas at night.

During the daytime, swap the retinoid for a sunscreen. “Even though our faces are mostly covered by masks, there are areas that are exposed to the sun so it's best to apply an even layer of SPF as the finishing step to your morning routine. Look for non-comedogenic and oil-free options for acne-prone skin. I like mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide because they’re less irritating and have antimicrobial properties that make it suitable for both acne-prone and sensitive skin types,” advises Libby. 

Putting a physical barrier between your skin and the mask will also help. “I have been recommending silicone tape or Duoderm, which is a hydrocolloid dressing that’s used to cover wounds, over any areas where the mask comes into contact with your face and applies the most friction (like the bridge of your nose or tops of your cheeks). Acne patches are great for individual breakouts, because they apply acne medication, while also serving as a physical barrier to the mask.”

Shop the regimen: Peach & Lily Acne Spot Dots ($5); CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser ($12); Cetaphil Facial Hydrating Lotion ($18); Duoderm Extra Thin Dressings ($25); Differin Acne Treatment Gel ($29); Elta MD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 ($30)

What should I do if I’m breaking out and my skin is super dry? 

“I’ve been seeing this a lot with my patients who are front line responders because they are often wearing tighter-fitting masks for many hours of the day with little relief in-between,” says Libby. “In these cases, it’s often a combination of maskne and eczema, which can manifest as dry, itchy skin. If you are experiencing both of these conditions, it’s important that you immediately cleanse your skin after removing your mask.”

You want to do this without over-drying or stripping your skin, which can lead to more irritation. (Dr. Libby likes Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser because it can be used with or without water and you can quickly swipe a cotton round with the cleanser over your skin if needed.) 

To treat active breakouts, “Apply a pea-sized amount of Differin Gel 0.1%, if your skin can tolerate it. You can also try an over-the-counter cortisone cream for short-term use to help alleviate any irritation and calm down inflammation. 

Lastly, always use a reparative moisturizer, like La Roche-Posay Lipikar, which has ceramides in it to restore your skin barrier, as well as niacinamide for calming irritation.

A final note: Keep your masks clean. 

For any homemade masks, make sure you hand wash them regularly in hot water and try to have a backup mask (or two) at the ready so you can rotate a clean one in before each outing. If you’re wearing a paper mask, spray them down with a sanitizer that has at least 60% isopropyl alcohol after each use in order to minimize bacteria that may be accumulating on the surface.

RELATED: Here’s What Causes Stress Acne—and 8 Products That Can Help