What is maskitis?
Updated 19th July 2021 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information.
In the last few months, you might have noticed the word “maskitis” on social media or in the newspapers. Though it’s not a medical term, it’s a label that some people have found helpful to describe symptoms they’re experiencing from wearing a mask or face covering.
“Maskitis” was coined in 2020 by Dr Dennis Gross, a dermatologist based in New York. In his words: “There are two main skin conditions caused by protective face coverings: maskne and what I have coined as maskitis. While they may appear similar on the surface, they are actually two very different skin reactions. And most importantly, they require two different treatments”.
If you’ve noticed that spots have started developing around your mouth and chin after wearing a mask, then you’re probably experiencing a type of acne known as “maskne”. You can learn more about this condition by reading our article on it: What is “maskne” and how to prevent it.
Symptoms of maskitis
The “-itis” in maskitis is a suffix used for lots of medical conditions, including arthritis, tonsillitis and hepatitis. It means “inflammation”. This essentially means maskitis is a type of inflammation that happens when you wear a mask.
Causes of maskitis
Because maskitis isn’t a medically recognised condition, it’s hard to talk about the causes with any certainty. Sometimes the irritation might just be caused by friction. The longer you wear a mask, the more the fabric will rub against your skin and cause irritation.
There are also are a few skin conditions that might cause this kind of reaction. Red, itchy or inflamed skin after wearing a mask might be a sign of any of the following:
Heat rash is a harmless condition that happens when it’s hot. It causes small, red spots to raise on the skin, and makes the skin feel itchy and prickly. Heat rash usually happens after sweating a lot. You might get it on your face if you’re wearing your mask for a long time in a warm environment.
Normally heat rash doesn’t need any treatment as it passes on its own.
Red, itchy skin on the face can be a sign that you’re allergic to something in your mask or the detergent you use to wash it. You might develop hives, a type of red rash that can be itchy and painful.
A mild allergic reaction can be treated with over-the-counter antihistamines, but if you think your mask is the cause the best option is to stop wearing it. Try a different fabric or a laundry detergent that’s been tested for allergic skin.
Atopic eczema is a condition that causes dry, itchy, sore, red skin to develop across the body. Adults tend to get eczema on the hands, the insides of the elbows, and behind the knees, however you can get it on your face as well.
People with eczema normally have flare-ups of bad symptoms, followed by periods of calm. Flare-ups are often triggered by an allergic reaction. If you have eczema and you wear a mask that triggers an allergic reaction, you might experience a flare-up on your face.
Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that’s triggered by the skin coming into contact with an irritating substance (irritants) or something you’re allergic to (allergens). Your skin might be irritated by or allergic to the fabric of your mask, or the laundry detergent you use.
Symptoms of contact dermatitis can become worse through friction (rubbing) and heat, both of which can be a problem when you’re wearing a mask.
Treatments for maskitis
If you’re having a bad reaction to wearing your mask, it’s always a good idea to speak to a doctor. They can help you work out if you have an allergy or a skin condition. They may also be able to suggest mask or face covering alternatives that are less irritating for your skin.
If you have a condition like atopic eczema you might need prescription skincare products like topical corticosteroids. These can be used during a flare-up to manage the worst affected areas.
You can also try the following:
- Wear a mask made from cotton rather than synthetic materials like polyester, as cotton is softer and less likely to cause rubbing
- Wash your mask regularly with a mild, fragrance-free detergent to remove dirt, dead skin and irritants. Read our guide to find out how to wash a reusable face mask
- Keep your skin moisturised throughout the day to reduce the effects of rubbing