On this page

What is "maskne" and how to prevent it

Woman touching both hands to chin in the mirror
On this page

Updated 15th October 2020 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information. 

What is “maskne”?

If you’re convinced you’re experiencing breakouts and redness after wearing a face mask, you may not be imagining things. ‘Maskne’ refers to the unfortunate development of pimples and spots after wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (especially during the hot summer months). These types of breakouts are easily identifiable because they only occur in the areas of the face protected by a face covering or mask (the chin, nose and mouth). 

What you’ll likely notice are shallow whiteheads as opposed to deep, painful red spots which are usually caused by regular acne.

What causes “maskne?”

Acne caused by masks is different to normal acne (caused by hormonal changes) as it’s a direct result of a physical disruption of the skin. The constant rubbing of material against our skin can result in micro-tears, which leads to bacteria, dirt and oil easily entering underneath the surface and clogging up pores.

The very nature of face masks is that they’re designed to limit airflow from entering or exiting the environment, which means those skin cells that would usually be shedding throughout the day are trapped on the surface and have nowhere to go. 

Why am I getting spots when wearing a mask?

Face coverings play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19. However, the humid and sticky environment a mask creates around your face, chin and nose can cause breakouts for two main reasons:

  • Physical rubbing – if you’re wearing a mask for long periods of time, the excess heat and pressure of the material against your face can cause a breakdown in the protective layer of your skin. This layer helps keep out external aggressors and works to keep your skin hydrated. Without this layer, your skin may be more prone to pimples referred to as ‘acne mechanica’.
  • Trapped moisture – especially in summer, the combination of sweat and oil that gathers under the mask (not to mention trapped breath) can clog pores. The lack of air circulation encourages bacteria growth and can lead to blackheads, whiteheads or pimples that will vary in size depending on how infected they become.

How to prevent “maskne”

Before looking into treatments for maskne, let’s talk about some of the preventative measures you can take before leaving your house with your mask on:

  • Wash your mask – the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommend washing your cloth mask after every use to prevent the build-up of bacteria. This can be done either in a washing machine or by hand washing.
  • Wash your face – now more than ever it’s important to practice proper facial hygiene. Try gently cleansing your face (especially the ‘maskne’ prone areas) in the morning and evening to make sure as much build up from the day is removed. Remember to be gentle on your skin rather than using harsh scrubs, as the aim is to help protect your skin rather than damage it further.
  • Face mask size – when browsing face masks, look to buy one that covers your nose and mouth without being too tight or too loose to avoid unnecessary friction.
  • Mask material – for those who live with acne-prone skin, soft material like silk or cotton are preferable over synthetic materials which are harsher on the skin.
  • Skincare routine – give your skin a fighting chance by using non-comedogenic (pore-blocking) moisturisers underneath your mask and avoid wearing heavy makeup that will clog up your skin more.

How to treat mask induced acne

Don’t be fooled into thinking that only those with pre-existing skin conditions experience ‘maskne’. The hot and sweaty environment a mask creates around your nose and mouth can lead to flareups in anyone, although those already living with skin conditions will find their breakouts harder to control.

Below we explore the different types of skin conditions and ways in which we can prevent a mask from making them worse:

Eczema

Eczema is a condition that causes your skin to become dry, itchy and red. Heat often makes symptoms of eczema worse, so it’s important to purchase a face covering that allows your skin to breathe. Cotton or silk face masks are the best option for those living with eczema. Additionally, avoid harsh soaps or detergents when washing your face mask. For best results, try adding an emollient to your skin care routine and if symptoms persist, antihistamines may help to ease the flareup brought on by your skin’s reaction to your mask. Make sure to speak to your doctor or pharmacist about eczema treatment.

It will also be helpful to wear a facemask that is held slightly away from your face to prevent unnecessary rubbing.

Acne

Acne is not caused by poor hygiene, but instead occurs when the glands under your skin produce too much sebum (oil). Symptoms of acne include a collection of papules (small red bumps) or pustules (bumps with a build-up of pus in the middle). If you believe you may be experiencing acne, visit LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor and complete the free acne assessment. You can also speak to your GP or a pharmacist for advice and support.

The following treatment options are suggested for those living with acne:

Topical skincare products – these can be found over the counter and contain low doses of acne medication (such as benzoyl peroxide) which kill spot-causing bacteria.

Prescription-strength topical treatments – stronger doses can be approved by our Online Doctor clinicians depending on the severity of your acne.

Prescription tablets – antibiotics can be prescribed alongside topical treatments by your GP or using our Online Doctor service, or for women the oral contraceptive pill is sometimes recommended for acne.

Do you already have an NHS prescription for acne treatment? Did you know you can get your prescriptions delivered to your door for free, by Echo?

Can I wear makeup if I have acne?

To avoid your symptoms of acne becoming worse, wear breathable materials like silk or cotton and avoid makeup. If you wish to wear makeup, purchase non-comedogenic (poor blocking) products. Also, when cleansing your face avoid scrubbing too hard as this can lead to further irritation.

Rosacea

Rosacea is a common condition that causes redness in the face. At first this may appear temporary, but over time can develop into more permanent redness and lead to visible blood vessels on the skin. For those living with rosacea, the best advice is to protect your face from the mask. You can achieve this by applying a fragrance free moisturiser to your skin, which will act as a barrier against you and the mask. Managing stress levels and avoiding alcohol can also help prevent rosacea flareups.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis leads to rough, red patches on the skin and is thought to be related to the immune system, although the exact causes are not fully understood. Psoriasis does not commonly affect the face, although if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of facial psoriasis as a result of your mask then it’s important to keep the skin moisturised to prevent it from drying out. You may also want to speak to a pharmacist or you GP about the ways you can manage your skin condition. Psoriasis can also be triggered by stress and anxiety, so try to keep an eye on your mental wellbeing during the pandemic. The NHS recommend:

Where to buy face masks

LloydsPharmacy offer a range of different types of face masks and coverings:

Ergonomic face masks – masks such as these are designed to not press up against your face, which will be useful for those who find themselves experiencing ‘maskne’.

Medical face masks – these masks offer 98% bacterial filtration efficiency and are lightweight and breathable.

Reusable face coverings – hand and machine washable masks that fit comfortably on the face and help reduce the spread of droplets in the air.

Face coverings for children – make sure the whole family are protected with these fun, patterned face coverings designed especially for children.

References

www.shape.com/lifestyle/beauty-style/maskne-face-mask-acne-mechanica
www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-53468051
www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/123732
www.nhs.uk/conditions/itchy-skin/
www.rosacea.org/blog/2020/april/avoiding-rosacea-flare-ups-during-covid-19-pandemic