Got Maskne? Expert Advice on How to Treat & Prevent Face Mask Breakouts

Gina Escandon

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Normally during this time of the year we’re looking for the best summer beauty products, but let’s just say 2020 really likes to keep us on our toes. The new and notorious beauty dilemma we’re all facing now is something I never thought I’d have to worry about: maskne – or breakouts from wearing face masks recommended for protecting ourselves and others.

Due to COVID-19, face masks have become a staple in public. Although masks are important for protection, they can cause skin irritation and line of pimples around your cheeks, jawline and chin. According to dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Mullans, maskne happens for two reasons. The first is because your breath creates a humid environment that traps sweat and skin oils. The second is because people are not washing their masks enough (which I am probably guilty of myself).

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It’s important to adjust both your skin and mask cleaning routines to avoid dreaded breakouts, especially ones caused by harsh chemicals and residue. “Masks are here to stay, so it’s important that our skincare routines are modified to help minimize acne flare-ups and skin irritation caused by mask usage,” says Dr. Mullans.

Here are a few essential tips to keep your skin healthy and glowing (even under the mask). 

Choose a cotton fabric.

The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face-covering in public settings. 100 percent cotton is the best because it absorbs moisture and is far less irritating to the skin than other materials.

Clean your mask every day.

Wash your mask daily in hot water with laundry detergent and white vinegar (which has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties), dried on higher heat settings in the dryer. Since a mask rests on your face, harsh chemicals and alcohols can be a skin reaction waiting to happen. If you have extra sensitive skin use hypoallergenic and fragrance-free detergent, like Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin, Free & Clear Detergent

Wash your face twice a day.

Use a gentle cleanser twice a day like Cetaphil or CeraVe, both before and after wearing a mask. Now is not the time to buff your skin with scrubs that are harsh and gritty, as those can damage your skin’s barrier even further. You also don’t need to use any washcloths or tools — just your fingers will do.

Acne-prone individuals might benefit from cleansers that contain salicylic acid. You can spot-treat pimples with a salicylic acid, sulfur, zinc, or 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide gel.

Use a light, fragrance-free moisturizer.

Stay well moisturized to protect your skin. Moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid and/or ceramides specifically can help prevent dryness and repair the skin’s protective barrier — but avoid heavy ingredients like coconut oil or cocoa butter.

Add in some other essential treatments.

Assuming your skin is not too sensitive, and if you’re not already using one, this is a good time to start a retinol cream or gel (Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair, RoC Retinol). Start several nights a week with a pea sized amount, and gradually increase the frequency.

You should also treat yourself to hydrating masks, or any mask most appropriate for your skin type. Try clay, glycolic acid, salicylic acid masks for oily or acne-prone skin. To minimize the risk of skin irritation, try to avoid layering face masks, and instead use them as a complement in a good skincare routine.

Avoid makeup.

If you can, keep makeup to the bare minimum to allow your skin to breathe and reduce clogged pores. This is also a good time to switch to makeup, primers and moisturizers that are non-comedogenic (ones that don’t block pores).

With the pandemic still in full effect, wearing face masks won’t be a thing of the past anytime soon. And now the big question: Is maskne a permanent condition, or will it go away over time? Dr. Mullans reassures that this bout of unpleasant blemishes is only temporary, as long as you maintain a good skincare routine. “Remember that your skin is your body’s largest organ and the products you use matter. If you feel that you have done all that you can to avoid skin irritation, and the problem persists, consult with your dermatologist,” adds Dr. Mullans.

I miss the days when face masks were something used to clear my complexion, but as a good COVID-19 citizen I’ll happily accept maskne if it means keeping people safe. In the meantime, it’s time to take on my new mantle as a blemish-soothing expert. 

Our mission at SheKnows is to empower and inspire women, and we only feature products we think you’ll love as much as we do. Please note that if you purchase something by clicking on a link within this story, we may receive a small commission of the sale and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

Take a look at some stylish face masks to add to your collection: 

Launch Gallery: 33 Protective (& Stylish) Cloth Face Masks You Can Buy Online Right Now

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