June 15, 2020 — 1 p.m. EST
Wearing face coverings while in public spaces is the new normal, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. While a face covering can take some getting used to, it’s well worth the mild annoyance to protect yourself from getting seriously sick with COVID-19. The more you wear a mask when you’re out in the public, the quicker you’ll get used to it. But there’s one mask-related issue many of us didn’t expect and will never get used to: your face mask causing breakouts. This is also known as mask acne, or “maskne” as some popular beauty brands have now dubbed it.
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Early in 2020, a study of 542 frontline healthcare workers was conducted in Hubei, China. The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that a staggering 97% of participants reported skin damage from wearing their PPE for long shifts each day. Skin irritation and breakouts due to wearing a face covering is actually well documented, so even though you might not be wearing full PPE every day, similar symptoms may still be present in daily face mask wearing.
In addition to acne, you may have noticed dryness, redness, and other signs of irritation. If you’re seeing whiteheads, pimples, or redness around the bridge of your nose, your cheeks, or your chinstrap (areas where the edges of your mask make constant contact with your face), there’s a good chance those issues are due to your face covering.
Whether you’re using surgical masks or reusable fabric face coverings, having something rub against your nose, cheeks and chin all day can cause your skin some distress. All that friction can create irritation and redness, and the fabric can absorb some of your skin’s natural, barrier-strengthening oils as well. That irritation causes inflamed skin, more bacteria, and more clogged pores. Plus, a weakened skin barrier means — yup, you guessed it — acne. But the good news is that there is something you can do about it.
It’s important to note that noticing new skin issues definitely does not mean you should stop wearing your face covering. You should continue to wear protective face coverings when out in public (the CDC still recommends them), and help prevent skin irritation and the dreaded “maskne” by following these tips. If you’re still noticing troublesome issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to a dermatologist, who may help you through telemedicine.
Wash your cloth face coverings EVERY SINGLE TIME.
If you mainly wear reusable fabric masks, make sure you wash them thoroughly every time you wear one. It might sound like a pain, but not only will a clean face covering better protect you from illness, it’s also less likely to lead to irritation, clogged pores, and pimples. If you’re going with disposable face coverings, don a fresh one every time you head out.
Smooth on a protective barrier.
A rich, emollient product, like petroleum jelly that keeps moisture in and reduces friction may help. Before putting on your face covering, gently smooth a light layer over the bridge of your nose, your cheeks, and the bottom of your chin to keep your mask from rubbing and irritating those areas.
Don’t overdo it on acne treatments and drying face masks.
This is an important one. While a sudden breakout may send you running for the exfoliating scrubs or your favorite clay or charcoal mask, continue to use these products in moderation. All these intense products can further dry out your skin and deplete its barrier of all the good oils it needs to stay supple and healthy. Since that’s the main cause of “maskne” in the first place, continuing to dry out or irritate your skin will actually keep this unpleasant cycle going, not stop it. Use these products as recommended (usually a max of 1-2 times per week) and stick to gentle cleansers.
Try gentler pimple poppers.
Salicylic acid, a gentler option found in many acne-fighting cleansers and creams, helps clear clogged pores with minimal irritation (at least for most people). It can still by drying though, so again, use this in moderation as one part of your updated skin care routine.
Don’t touch your face!
This is a good rule to follow for several reasons. Keeping your hands off your face prevents you from transferring oils, dirt, and bacteria from your hands, all of which can cause breakouts. It also prevents you from transferring other gross things (you know, like the novel coronavirus), so it’s a good habit to help keep you healthy, too.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
It may seem counterintuitive, but if your skin is irritated and — possibly, overproducing sebum, it’s natural oil — adding more moisture might actually help. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, “Dry skin is irritated skin. Anytime you irritate your face, you risk getting more acne.” So don’t skip the moisturizer.