'Maskne' is the new acne— these tips will keep you comfortable and blemish-free all summer

·6 min read

As we move into warmer weather and masks are part of our mainstay, what can you do to stay protected while keeping cool and blemish-free?

Here’s your guide to staying clear with recommendations by dermatologists and doctors and nurses wearing masks long 12-hour-shifts at a time, tricks to keep you comfortable, and some ways to add a little fun and personality to your mask game.

How to stay blemish-free

If you’re suffering from acne, or what’s being dubbed ‘maskne,' there are two likely culprits, acne mechanica, or acne flareups due to friction from a mask, or blemishes due to bacteria and yeast brewing under the hot, wet fabric. Either way, yuck!

“Breathing in and out under a mask increases the temperature and humidity of the covered areas of the face, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to breed,” explains Dr. Yoram Harth, board-certified dermatologist and Medical Director of MDacne.

Constant friction also damages the outer protective layer creating a perfect storm. “The resulting vulnerable skin allows the bacteria on its surface to easily enter deep into clogged oil glands, causing increased inflammation and acne breakouts,” he adds.

Here are some pointers from dermatologists and skincare experts on how to clear it up:

Always wash your face gently with a salicylic or glycolic acid cleanser (this one from Mario Badescu is just $22), if you’re actively breaking out, avoid harsh scrubs which will only aggravate skin further. Dermatologists also recommend Hibiclens, a surgical soap you can pick up over-the-counter. It’s a great option since it continues to keep bacteria at bay for 24 hours.

Products to tackle maskne. (Photo: Sephora, Amazon)
Products to tackle maskne. (Photo: Sephora, Amazon)

Secretly treat your blemishes on the go! Acne patches (these patches from Mighty Patch are just $12.50) are a great option to quell whiteheads under your mask. It works double-duty by also preventing the blemish from rubbing against any fabrics that might increase irritation.

Keep in mind that a mask’s seal could also be a skincare concern. As a final step before putting on your mask, apply an occlusive agent like a face oil or balm, even a makeup primer with dimethicone (a form of silicone that seals in hydration and protects skin). We love this one from Honest Beauty, which is more than half off. “Occlusive agents have larger molecules that prevent water loss by creating a protective barrier on your skin’s surface,” explains founder of Town & Anchor, Parisa Morris.

These balms create a protective barrier on your skin, giving it a tiny bit of slip so that your mask can rest comfortably on your face, without compromising your mask’s seal. Look for options on the market that tout anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, like tea tree oil.

For men with facial hair, dermatologists overwhelmingly recommend AmLactin. This over-the-counter line of alpha-hydroxy moisturizers exfoliates the skin while it moisturizes to soothe irritation.

Once you’ve safely removed your mask, dermatologists recommend misting skin with a calming toner to refresh the skin and decrease excess oil and debris. Wash your skin thoroughly as soon as you’re able.

Dermatologist-recommended products for maskne. (Photo: Amazon)
Dermatologist-recommended products for maskne. (Photo: Amazon)

If you’re prone to breakouts, wash your mask daily or opt for a disposable mask. “Silk masks are a more comfortable and breathable choice,” explains Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. In fact, a University of Chicago study suggest that masks made of a combination of high thread-count cotton with a natural silk fabric or chiffon weave could effectively filter out 80-99% of aerosol particles, she adds. Look for masks that have soft seams and fabrics, like a silk inner layer, that won’t irritate skin, or fabric blends that may include anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

Washing your mask

It’s critical to properly sanitize and clean your mask for your safety and your skin’s health, here’s how experts recommend you do it:

Remove any filters and detachable pieces and place mask in a lingerie bag (like this set of seven at Amazon). This will keep ties and ear loops in place as they tumble in the washer and dryer. “

Look for a detergent that’s designed to break down soil, oils and sweat for the most thorough clean. Experts do warn to avoid fabric softeners as it can lead to irritation and breakouts since they can often leave a film on the surface of the fabric.

Finally, if someone in your home is sick or has a compromised immune system you may want to consider adding a phenolic disinfectant to the rinse cycle.

Btromeshy Mesh Laundry Bag for Delicates (Photo: Amazon)
Btromeshy Mesh Laundry Bag for Delicates (Photo: Amazon)

After your mask runs through a wash cycle, pop the lingerie bag directly into the dryer. To avoid shrinkage you’ll want to wash and dry in the hottest possible setting safe for the mask’s fabric type. You can even dry in direct sunlight!

If you’re hand washing your mask, submerge it into a basin of hot water with detergent, agitate it for a minute and allow it to soak for 20 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Rinse very well, any leftover residue can cause skin irritation and acne.

Never boil, microwave or place masks in ovens to clean, it will degrade the mask rendering it ineffective.

For on-the-go sterilization, UV-C lights are becoming a popular option. While not as effective as a tumble in the wash, it might be a good skincare option as a quick once-over to decrease bacteria and yeast buildup if you’re on the move.

Hacks to keep you comfortable

First responders have been working long shifts with masks, so we turned to them for their best tips on how to keep it comfortable, here’s what they shared:

To take pressure away from ears, try this paper clip trick. Or sew a button onto your hat. To tighten ear loops on the go, try twisting the loop once before looping it around your ear. Or make a knot to shorten the loop altogether. If you find your tie back keeps sliding down, crisscross the ties for a more secure fit.

It’s easier than you think to keep glasses and sunglasses from fogging up! Wash them with Dawn dish soap, or apply shaving cream directly to the lenses, then rinse gently under water. The thinnest film on the surface will keep you seeing clearly.

Keep it fun (and functional):

This anti-fog windowpane mask is perfect for lip-reading. (Photo: Etsy)
This anti-fog windowpane mask is perfect for lip-reading. (Photo: Etsy)

Some companies are extending their brand philosophies to cloth mask styles and accessories that are fun, functional and sustainable.

Functionality-wise look for windowpane masks for those who lip read, or want to show off their pearly whites.

And for those having a tough time unlocking their phone with Face ID, a San Francisco-based artist has also created realistic looking masks of your face so you can scroll through your feed with ease.

Video by Kat Vasquez

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