Now government officials are asking the general public to help curb the spread of the virus by covering their faces with nonsurgical or cloth face coverings in public, or where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing. These types of face coverings aren’t as tight fitting as surgical masks or N95 respirators — critical supplies worn by and reserved for health care workers. But they can still cause unwanted irritations such as acne breakouts. It’s become so prevalent, there’s even a name for it: “maskne” (mask acne).
Dr. Mona Mofid, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, is seeing a steady rise in adult patients. She says, “Face masks are fitted to your face, which increases the temperature and humidity around the nose and mouth. The constant heat and moisture causes sweat and dirt that clogs skin pores, and that can make you more prone to acne or pimples.”
Although cloth face coverings are generally looser and softer than the more rigid medical masks, the environment they create is ideal for bacteria to breed. The constant friction from masking can also break away the skin’s protective layer, making it more vulnerable.
Dr. Mofid says washing your face covering regularly will help reduce risk or prevent flare-ups, particularly for those who are already prone to acne.
“Ideally, if your face mask is disposable, throw it out after using it. If it’s reusable or cloth, it should be washed every day in the washing machine,” she says. “When exercising, if there’s no one close by, it may be better not to use a mask as there is an increased oxygen requirement on our bodies.”
Dr. Mofid also says, “You do not want to spray masks with Lysol or other disinfectants in between wearing them because the chemicals in these products may cause an allergic reaction.”
She cautions to be mindful of the use of fabric softeners, dryer sheets and some laundry detergents, which can cause allergic reactions. In addition, certain fabrics are more comfortable and breathe better against the skin than others. If you’re making or sewing your own face covering, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using cotton fabrics.
“Acne is not just for teenagers,” says Dr. Mofid. “Some people experience acne all their life because their skin is more acne-prone or for hormonal reasons.”
“It can even be caused by stress. Stress levels are high right now because of COVID-19. Couple that with a dirty mask and anyone can end up with ‘maskne.’”
She also adds, “You can wear a face covering as advised, but don’t develop a false sense of security. First and foremost, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and practice social distancing.”
10 tips for avoiding breakouts caused by face coverings
Dr. Mofid offers these 10 tips to avoid acne breakouts caused by wearing face coverings:
- Wash your face with an anti-acne soap; look for ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
- Cleanse your face with a toner, such as pure witch hazel, which can be used several times a day, or as needed.
- When you’re at home, let your skin breathe and don’t wear a face covering if you’re alone or cohabitating with family or the same people.
- An over-the-counter anti-acne cream can be worn under the face covering.
- Avoid wearing makeup.
- Wash with fragrance-free and perfume-free products, which don’t irritate the skin.
- If you’re using disposable masks, change them a few times a day and throw them out after each use. If they are reusable or cloth, wash them after every use.
- Don’t put disinfectants on the mask because it can leach onto the skin and cause irritation.
- If you’re running or exercising, and you can keep a safe distance from others, consider not wearing a face covering. If not, always wash your face covering after exercising.
- If your skin is not getting better, be sure to contact your health care provider who can help you with a topical prescription, if necessary.