2020 presented us with many undesirable surprises, including the one harboring under our mandatory face masks. We’re talking about maskne, which is defined as acne on the chin, blackheads, inflammation, and irritation around the areas that come in contact with a face covering. Like it or not, it’s one of the only current solutions for controlling Covid-19.
While those sound like characteristics that would describe teenage skin, rest assured this is a problem that people of all ages are dealing with right now — especially frontline health care workers. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (A.A.D.) released information regarding a study that found at least 83 percent of health care workers in Hubei, China (the center of the infection in China) suffered from skin issues. Of course, looking at your own chin in the mirror tells you that’s just one of many statistics as this is a global problem.
So, then what makes maskne different from other breakouts? “The type of breakout you may experience when wearing a mask is known as acne mechanica, which occurs when there is too much rubbing and friction on the skin,” explains Austin-based dermatologist Dr. Adam Mamelak. “Masks can also trap oil, humidity, sweat, and dirt. As you breathe, the moisture from your breath gets trapped in the fabric. This environment makes areas like the nose and cheeks covered by a mask to become susceptible to acne.”
We’re going on almost one year of the pandemic, so if you’re wondering how to get rid of maskne (or prevent it), here are some maskne tips and product suggestions.
Don’t Choose the Wrong Mask
From surgical face masks to reusable models, choose the best cover for your skin type and lifestyle. “Many of the materials used to manufacture masks can irritate and inflame the skin, and the additional irritation and flaking on the skin surface can also contribute to acne formation,” says Mamelak. “Select a mask that is made of a material or has a liner that is gentle on the skin. Silk and silk-like materials are the best. While these are far from the industrial and hospital grade masks used by healthcare workers, these professional masks are not always recommended for the general population.”
Mamelak also suggests masks with filters nestled in numerous layers in between the other materials, and if you’re going the cloth route, be sure to launder it frequently. Choose a gentle, fragrance-free detergent to avoid further irritation. Some masks are woven with copper or silver, both of which have antimicrobial properties to keep acne-causing bacteria at bay.
Don’t Go Overboard With Your Skincare Routine
This tip may be difficult for beauty product junkies to grasp, but less is more if you want to prevent additional inflammation and breakouts. Between the friction and the tent-like atmosphere, a mask creates, anything too aggressive (like a potent retinol, for example) will have a counteractive result.
“Strong acids and toners are not ideal for treating your skin after wearing a mask. Products with anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide, sulfur, and azelaic acid can help soothe the skin,” suggests Mamelak. “Use a skin-soothing moisturizer to hydrate the skin and reduce irritation, and consider lubricating contact points under your mask, like the bridge of your nose and sides of the chin, with an ointment or emollient to decrease rubbing and friction.”
Don’t Pile on the Makeup
Now is the perfect time to focus on eyeshadow techniques and sculpting your brows, but ditch the heavy foundation, blush, and powder on the rest of your face. Not only is it a waste because nobody can see it, but it’s only going to aggravate a maskne condition by settling into your pores along with sweat, dirt, and bacteria. If anything, opt for a skin-smoothing BB cream with a hint of color and SPF (suggestion below.)
Don’t Self-Diagnose Your Skin Issues
Your skin may be doing some crazy things right now, but whatever you do, don’t try to self-diagnose any new issues that may pop up. Doing so could lead to you using the wrong products to treat the problem at hand. Whether you can’t get your maskne under control or you’re frustrated by another condition, book an appointment with a skincare professional so you can get your skin back on track.
Don’t Let Stress Get the Best of You
Between the pandemic, not seeing loved ones, job loss, and the election, 2020 has been a stressful year. So, along with maskne, you’ve got stress to thank for your breakouts. Studies link stress with acne, so you’re not doing your skin any favors by freaking out about things you cannot control. You can manage your own physical and mental health — at least, to the best of your ability during these uncertain times. Eat healthfully, drink in moderation, make time for exercise and self-care, meditate, start a gratitude journal, find alternative ways to connect with friends and family, and (of course) take care of your skin.
How to Treat Maskne
Now, more than ever, a solid skincare routine is vital. Here are some key products for treating and preventing maskne.
- The A Method® by Tina Alster, M.D. $105: Tina Alster, MD, FAAD, is the creator and co-founder of the A Method, a medical-grade skincare line that targets every skin type and concern. While the brand has an incredible array of products to choose from, her new Maskne Kit should be on your radar right now. The kit includes a glycolic gel cleanser, blemish pads, and a probiotic moisturizer, which work synergistically to ensure that your skin is optimized for mask-wearing — which is essential since prevention is the ultimate goal. Oil production is balanced, the skin is gently exfoliated and brightened, and oxidative stress is reduced, thanks to probiotics and a trifecta of curcuminoids.
- belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb, $22: It’s still important to hydrate your skin even if it’s breaking out. The trick is to choose an oil-free formula, such as this light gel moisturizer that refreshes skin on contact while giving it a non-greasy surge of moisture at the same time. This super-hydrator also minimizes pore size, evens out the skin tone, and works to neutralize free radicals, thanks to lady’s mantle and malachite.
- 100% Pure Antibacterial Wood Pulp Oil Blotting Paper, $9: Are you looking to mop up the shine that’s accumulating underneath your mask throughout the day? Of course, you are — well, these blotting papers are the perfect remedy. Wood pulp and hemp fiber boast antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it will be easier to battle — or prevent — breakouts with or without a mask.
- GLAMGLOW SuperMud Clearing Treatment, $60: GLAMGLOW has a cult following among makeup artists, celebrities, and beauty enthusiasts in the know, and this award-winning clearing treatment is no exception. While GG has several masks to choose from, when it comes to battling maskne, you can’t beat this formula with activated charcoal and a blackhead-busting six-acid AHA and BHA blend that will leave your skin looking flawless. It’s also a great arsenal against whiteheads, razor bumps, and pimples.
- Tammy Fender Clarifying Dermagel, $72: Natural, plant-based skincare guru Tammy Fender (25-plus years in the making) takes a holistic approach to skincare, one that proves you don’t need to get overly scientific to see superior results. A moisturizer formulated with antiseptic redness-reducing ingredients such as tea tree, myrrh, and thyme, it’s as though this product was crafted for mask-wearing times such as these. If you’re worried about your skin becoming overly dry, don’t — there’s also the addition of aloe to soothe, heal, and protect.
- REN Clearcalm 3 Replenishing Gel Cream, $42: Pimples — with or without a mask — are typically accompanied by inflammation. This light-weight soothing gel-cream is formulated to hydrate the skin while calming and controlling the appearance of blemishes. Lingonberry seed oil replenishes the skin while licorice extract soothes and ochroleuca seaweed extract calms any inflammation that could be aggravated by your mask.
- Nightly AOX Micropeel by Amethyst Skincare, $85: While it’s true that you have to be careful not to use too many harsh ingredients to prevent further irritation from wearing a mask, this micropeel is applied at night when you’re mask-free. The powerful formula comprised of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and 1% retinol works synergistically to boost radiance, unclog pores, alleviate dryness, soften wrinkles, and even out the skin tone with zero downtime — talk about the ultimate beauty sleep.
- Caolion Premium Hot & Cool Pore Pack Duo, $27: This dynamic duo mask set provides two different methods for clearing up blackheads, so it’s like a mini at-home facial. The Blackhead Steam Pore Pack heats upon contact for a steaming effect that loosens blackheads, while charcoal powder works to deep clean pores and exfoliate dead skin cells. The Pore Original Pack has a cooling effect while it minimizes pores, hydrates, and calms inflammation with Alaskan glacial water, just what you need after taking off your mask.
- Etude House Wonder Pore Freshener, $19.80: A cult Korean beauty favorite, the peppermint extract in this toner profoundly cleanses and controls oil while leaving the skin’s pH balanced and soft, not stripped of its natural oils. You can swipe it on before or after wearing your mask — or both.
- Dr.Jart+ TEATREETMENT Mission Clear! Kit, $25: Dr.Jart+ has a dedicated section on its website to Maskne treatments, including this all-encompassing kit consisting of a cleansing foam, toner, moisturizer, and color-corrector with SPF 30. As the name suggests, tea tree oil is the star ingredient as it targets blemishes, rebalances, and clears the skin.
- Dr. Barbara Sturm Maskne Set, $130: For starters, this fantastic kit comes with a reusable nano-silver mask that’s both breathable and antimicrobial, unlike other cloth models. All of the products are the perfect arsenal against the skincare concerns that come with wearing a face covering. The anti-pollution drops boost skin barrier function and protect against pollution damage. Everyone could use a calming serum to soothe and rebalance the appearance of irritated skin. The clarifying mask is the perfect weekly treatment to absorb excess sebum while balancing the skin’s hydration levels. Top it all off with a tea tree-infused spot treatment, and you’ll be attacking maskne from all angles.
- MISSHA M Perfect Cover BB Cream, $8: When you’re trying to cut back on makeup, a BB cream is a great alternative. This K-beauty brand is known for its fantastic skincare, but this results-driven (and extremely affordable) BB cream shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s chock-full of skin-friendly ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides to moisturize, gatuline RC to tone, and rosemary and chamomile extract to soothe and calm your mask-wearing face. The formula boasts an SPF of 42 and provides just enough coverage to conceal blemishes or an uneven skin tone in a matter of seconds.
- Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser, $6.49: Bioré sure has evolved since first introducing its pore strips in 1996. This acne cleanser is formulated with natural charcoal to deep clean the pores and help balance oil production. The addition of salicylic acid works to exfoliate the skin while treating blemishes gently. Not only does it treat the breakouts you have, but it helps prevent new ones to boot.
- Avéne Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream, $28: This cult French pharmacy favorite has an impressive 45 uses, including dry patches, rashes, and irritation, which means it’s a perfect companion to your mask and copious other skin issues that come your way. Avéne’s proprietary postbiotic C+ Restore complex helps skin heal four times faster than other creams, so expect to see an improvement within two days.
- Perricone MD Acne Relief Gentle and Soothing Cleanser, $35: It can be hard to find a cleanser for acne-prone skin that doesn’t lather, but this formula from Perricone MD fits the bill. It’s gentle enough to be used morning and night, yet it thoroughly cleanses, gently exfoliates (there’s 2.5% salicylic acid), unclogs pores, and reduces excess oil without irritating sensitive skin. Also, sucrose helps support healthy skin microbiome.
- Osmosis Beauty Remedy Healing Balm, $55: There is a bevy of ingredients in this mask worth mentioning (think hydrolyzed wheat protein, licorice root extract, sea buckthorn berry, panthenol, and several more). Still, it’s the hefty dose of shea butter that makes the skin soft, supple, and super-hydrated. It also alleviates redness and irritation. Tip: The formula is clear, so you can slather on this balm underneath your mask. Nobody will be the wiser.
- Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum, $39: This serum was featured on Peach & Lily’s maskne favorites page and with good reason. Niacinamide reduces redness and inflammation, madecassoside heals and fortifies, hyaluronic acid and peptides deeply hydrate, and peach extract nourishes and brightens. It’s the perfect maskne serum.
- COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch, $10.98: These pimple patches are like tiny sheet masks for your breakouts. They work by absorbing the oil and creating a barrier that blocks bacteria from getting in and making things worse. As the patches are clear, they can be worn anytime — especially when concealed with a mask.
- Cetaphil Foaming Face Wash for Redness-Prone Skin, $10.49: Dermatologists celebrate Cetaphil for being one of the most skin-safe brands, and this cleanser takes soothing to another level. Along with gently washing away pore-clogging dirt, oil, and impurities, it also helps soothe away the redness that can occur from natural skin conditions and the irritation that comes with wearing a mask.
Maskne, the type of breakout you may experience when wearing a mask, is known as acne mechanica, which occurs when there is too much rubbing and friction on the skin. Masks can also trap oil, humidity, sweat, and dirt. As you breathe, the moisture from your breath gets trapped in the fabric. This environment makes areas like the nose and cheeks covered by a mask to become susceptible to acne. Wearing the proper mask, adopting a less is more skincare routine, reducing stress levels, and getting help from a skincare professional (if needed) and crucial for keeping maskne at bay.
“Skincare Damage Among Healthcare Workers Managing Coronavirus Disease 2019,” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, May 2020.
“The Association Between Stress and Acne,” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,” December 2017.