Unmasking “Maskne”

Daily mask-wearing has become the new normal worldwide as we try to mitigate coronavirus. With facial mask use on the rise, we’re also observing a widespread phenomenon of mask-induced acne, coined “maskne.”  Yes, it’s real, but it’s preventable and treatable.

Maskne, Defined

Maskne is an example of acne mechanica: skin irritation and acne breakouts, predominantly whiteheads, caused by excessive heat, rubbing (friction), and blockage (occlusion). Prior to COVID-19, this issue was typically seen most with helmets for sports or other outdoor activtities. Like a football, lacrosse, or motorcycle helment, a well-intentioned mask may trap excess moisture, sweat, and oil on the skin’s surface and further aggravate pores by rubbing.


Healthcare and other front-line workers are most at risk because their masks tend to be tighter-fitting, and they wear them for longer periods of time. Masks can worsen preexisting acne or cause new breakouts, especially now that summer is upon us. Summer heat and humidity add to the Petri dish.

With requirements in many states to wear masks in most public places, including during exercise, following a gentle skin care routine is key to avoiding or minimizing maskne.

1. Cleanse

A double cleanse can be crucial to preventing maskne. First, use an oil-based cleanser to lift bacteria and grime (and any makeup) from the skin. Second, use a gentle cleanser to rinse all the impurities away. Wash in circular motions. With this method, cleansing should take 1-2 minutes. Cleanse at least twice daily and after prolonged mask-wearing.

AAD Face Washing 101

2. Exfoliate

Exfoliating with ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid, or glycolic acid can help to decongest pores. Look for a gentle chemical exfoliant to weaken cell bonds and break down sebum before it clogs pores. It can be included within a cleanser or a standalone exfoliant. Use even once daily may be too harsh for some people, especially initially. I periodically use a chemical exfoliant in my routine—weekly, not daily.

How to Choose an Exfoliant

3. Moisturize

It is incredibly important to support the skin barrier. Non-comedogenic moisturizing aims to prevent moisture from escaping the skin and shield the skin from bacteria and contaminants. Moisturizer can do double duty by trapping hydration and also protecting from mask friction.

4. Skip “Extras”

Streamline your routine. Get back to basics. Since many of us use too many beauty products anyway, consider mask-wearing as a good excuse to pare down the cosmeceuticals in your medicine cabinet. This will reduce the number of steps—and expenses.


Since blockage from masks can intensify products’ effects on the skin, Dr. Carrie Kovarik suggests using products with “actives,” such as retinol, at night only. Dr. Kovarik is an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology’s COVID-19 task force.

Try to limit products and ingredients that may exacerbate acne. Skip oily, occlusive makeup, as it may exacerbate maskne. If/when you apply makeup, consider oil-free, mineral-based products and consider washing the makeup off as soon as the event ends.

5. Care for Your Masks

Treat masks like you would underwear. Look for breathable, reusable masks (as appropriate), such as those made from 100% cotton, and wash them routinely (as indicated). Skin oil and environmental particles collect on masks and may irritate the skin as they accumulate. Be sure to wash cloth masks regularly (ideally, after each use to prevent infection) and as directed, using hot water and a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic laundry detergent or soap. Also hopefully like your underwear, store your mask in a clean, dry place between use.

Some of My Favorites

I like to look for products that don’t cause further irritation, while addressing dead skin cell, oil, and bacterial buildup. Here are some of my (online accessible) favorites:


DHC Deep Cleansing Oil

La Roche Posay Toleriane



Drunk Elephant Glycolic Acid

The Ordinary Lactic Acid (various strengths)

Paula’s Choice BHA & AHA


La Roche Posay Toleriane


SkinMedica HA5

When to Consult a Derm

With the right skin care, you should notice an improvement in a few days. If you end up with persistent or worsening maskne, you may want to consult a dermatology professional. Bear in mind that acne treatments, even OTC prodcuts with 2.5-5% benzoyl peroxide, are irritating to skin, and you still must also contend with the irritation from the mask.


Please follow the CDC’s guidelines, which are evidence-based and intended to keep us all safe. It’s important to continue wearing a mask, even if/when it causes skin irritation. Maskne, or the threat of it, absolutely does not justify being in public without wearing a mask during a pandemic.

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Categories: General, Uncategorized


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