Yes, it has a name, and, from the looks of it, you’re going to be dealing with face-mask-acne for some time. Health Canada continues to strongly recommend that everyone wears a face mask in public, particularly indoors, to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Whether you venture outside to go to work, the mailroom in your apartment building or the grocery store, wearing a face mask is essential for your (and others’) health—even though it can spell trouble for your skin.
Technically, maskne is called acne mechanica, a form of acne caused by friction against the skin. “Our face was not meant to be covered by fabric which traps heat, moisture, makeup, dirt, and oils—all of which can lead to acne, rosacea, and other rashes,” says dermatologist Jennifer Krejci-Manwaring, MD, assistant professor in the division of dermatology at UT Health San Antonio.
Here’s how to keep a clear complexion while staying safe and healthy.
Wash your face twice a day
The first step whenever you’re dealing with breakouts—whether they’re caused by wearing a mask or not—is to develop a solid skincare routine. And that always starts with washing your face properly.
“I recommend washing the face twice daily with a gentle cleanser,” says dermatologist Andrew Alexis, MD, director of Skin of Color Center at the Mount Sinai Health System. If you’re not doing that already, you’ll need to implement an AM and PM skincare routine stat.
Most of us probably don’t have time to wash our face more than that. “For busy people, it’s impractical to wash our faces more than twice a day, especially for frontline workers,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “I recommend carrying fragrance-free baby wipes, wet facial wipes, like the Neutrogena Make-Up Remover Facial Cleansing Towelettes, or acne wipes for a quick wash during the day.”
Choose your face masks wisely
“The masks that completely seal around your nose and mouth like N95 and respirator-style masks are going to lock in the most moisture and have the most contact with the skin,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “While they are the most protective to the person wearing them, they are also the most potentially irritating.”
A light, soft cloth DIY mask can help prevent the spread of the virus and other germs to the people around you and are the most well tolerated, says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring.
Bottom line: If you’re not wearing a medical mask, stick to cotton. “Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and rayon—they tend to trap sweat underneath the mask, which can lead to breakouts and irritation,” says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD. “If you’re creating your own coronavirus face mask, use a thicker weave on the outside and a softer blend on the inside to protect your skin.”
Wash your face mask more often
Pop quiz: When was the last time you washed your mask? “Cloth masks should be washed daily, and medical masks should be changed daily,” says Dr. Khetarpal. And, of course, if there’s visible dirt inside your mask, it’s time to wash it or ditch it for a new one. According to the CDC, cloth face masks should be washed after each use. Also, you should toss them in the laundry with your regular detergent at the warmest appropriate temperate (read your mask’s label) to disinfect them.
Or, you can disinfect by hand by DIYing your own disinfectant using four teaspoons household bleach per quart of room temperature water, according to the CDC. Soak your cloth face mask for five minutes, rinse it thoroughly with cool water, let it dry completely, then you’re ready to go.
Give your face a mask break
Every dermatologist we spoke to said that yes, it’s a good idea to take a break from wearing your mask so your skin can breathe but only do so if you’re in a safe, socially distanced environment.
Dr. Alexis suggests taking 10-15 minute mask breaks every four hours, if possible. And Dr. Krejci-Manwaring says, “I wear a cotton medical mask when seeing patients and I remove it in between each one to get some air. And I avoid the mask when I’m home or in my car.”
Try a barrier lotion
Some lotions can help create a barrier between your skin and the mask, potentially reducing breakouts. Dr. Alexis recommends a noncomedogenic facial lotion (which means it’s been formulated to not clog pores) with ingredients such as ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid. And keep in mind: “If your skin is already breaking out from a mask, some lotions may worsen this,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. Avoid anything with strong fragrances. “Cetaphil is another good choice,” he says. “If your skin is dry, Vaseline or heavier emollients may work well to protect the skin.”
Skip makeup under your face mask
You know no one’s going to see it, but if you’re used to doing a full face, it’s time to switch things up. By all means, go to town on your eye makeup if you’d rather not leave the house barefaced, but skip the all-over foundation and blush on your cheeks. Not only will it decrease your risk of acne, but it could impact your mask’s effectiveness.
“You should skip makeup to ensure a proper seal of the mask,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring, who says she only wears eye makeup and a little powder on her forehead and upper cheeks.
Talk to a dermatologist
If your acne or rosacea flare-ups are becoming more severe and at-home treatments don’t seem to be working, check in with a dermatologist for additional help.
“If you’re really breaking out, a board-certified dermatologist is the best place to go for prescription medications that can help,” says Dr. Krejci-Manwaring. “However, Differin is a retinoid that is now available over the counter along with acne products that contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.”
Many derms are still offering virtual sessions in addition to in-person visits, so don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment.