What is Maskne? How can I stop it from developing?
Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Aug 6, 2020.
Maskne is the name given to skin conditions that arise on the face from wearing a face mask.
It is a term created by combining the words mask and acne = Mask-acne or Maskne, and its prevalence has soared with the widespread wearing of face masks.
Why does Maskne develop?
When two surfaces touch each other, such as a face mask and the skin on your face, it creates friction, because both surfaces are not perfectly smooth. The more different each surface is (such as skin with added facial hair or stubble) the more friction develops. This is what starts Maskne off.
This friction causes irritation of the skin – the medical term for this is Acne Mechanica. This condition not only occurs in people who wear masks, it is also common among people who wear chin straps and helmets, such as football players.
With mild skin irritation, the skin looks rough and red. With time, skin pores become clogged and acne-like bumps develop. Friction also breaks down the skin barrier, which is a layer of fats and oils that keep the skin hydrated and protect it from bacteria. Add in high humidity, warm temperatures, or sweat, and you have the perfect environment for bacteria to grow within the clogged skin pores, creating pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, and sometimes, pustules and cysts.
The longer the condition is left untreated the worse it gets. Allergies to either the detergent used to wash the mask or chemicals, dyes, or other substances within the mask can exacerbate Maskne or cause a similar looking rash under the mask.
How is Maskne treated?
If you have developed Maskne, following the following steps for treating it.
- Wash your skin with a gentle soap-free cleanser. Pat it dry gently using a soft towel. Avoid using astringents (such as witch hazel) or toners on your face.
- If your skin irritation is mild, and acne has not developed, apply an over-the-counter 0.5% or 1% hydrocortisone cream once or twice a day for up to one week. Avoid the eyes and mouth.
- If your Maskne is moderate-to-severe, and pimples and pustules have developed, use an over-the-counter acne cleanser containing glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide to wash your face with. Follow up with an acne treatment product containing benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, or retinol. If your Maskne does not get better after a week or two, see a dermatologist.
Follow the preventive steps below to keep your skin free of Maskne.
How can I prevent Maskne?
To protect against Covid-19 it is important to wear face masks. But the following tips can help reduce your risk of developing Maskne:
- Use a gentle cleanser to wash your face whenever you remove your mask at home. Always apply a light moisturizer to your skin after drying it.
- Give your skin a chance to breathe by going mask-free around your home whenever possible.
- Even though 75% of your face is covered by your mask, still apply a light-weight, oil-free sunscreen. This will help protect your skin and also provide a barrier between your mask and your skin, helping to protect against Maskne.
- Choose a face mask made of lightweight cotton or silk, preferably one that contains a filter and fits snuggly around your nose and mouth. If you are using paper masks, change your mask several times a day.
- If you are using fabric masks, these need to be washed and dried thoroughly every day. Laundry detergent can be a common cause of allergies, so a fragrance-free or low-allergenic detergent should be used. If you think your fabric mask may be aggravating your skin, change to a different type of fabric that does not contain dye, or use a paper mask instead. Make sure you buy enough fabric masks to last between laundry days.
- Avoid wearing make-up under your mask. If you do wear make-up, look for one that is non-comedogenic (less likely to cause blocked pores).
- Try not to adjust or play with your mask unless you must. The more you touch your mask, the more friction you create and the dirtier your mask becomes.
- Face-mask skin problems. DIY Treatment. American Academy of Dermatology Association https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/face-mask-skin-problems-treatment
- How to Wear Masks. 2020. Centers for Disease Control and prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wear-cloth-face-coverings.html
- Unsure About Actually Wearing a Face Mask? Here’s How (and Why) to Do It. April 7, 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/unsure-about-actually-wearing-a-face-mask-heres-how-and-why-to-do-it/
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