If you’ve been noticing pimples and redness around your mouth, nose, chin and cheeks lately, there’s a chance you might be experiencing maskne – blocked pores caused by friction and excess moisture on the skin. However, don’t be too quick to cast the masks aside – maskne is easily prevented and treated with over the counter products, so you should still wear a face covering whenever possible.
In the UK, face coverings are now recommended by the government for most people in many settings, such as supermarkets, shops, and any other indoor public places. At the moment, social distancing measures and face masks are the most effective way of keeping COVID-19 transmission at bay, and until a vaccine is available, masks could be part of our lives for quite some time.
Face masks were introduced to help to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and they should be worn by all who are able to when in close contact with other members of the public that aren’t in your bubble. However, many people have started to notice skin problems such as spots and dry arising since wearing face coverings in day to day life – now commonly known as “maskne”.
Whilst skin problems can be irritating and sore, the good news is that there are things you can do to reduce them so that you can still wear a face mask and protect others around you.
What is Maskne?
“Maskne” (from mask + acne) was coined after people started noticing an increase in pimples and other skin complaints after wearing face coverings.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a coincidence, and pimples and whiteheads around the mouth, nose, chin and cheeks are a common side effect of wearing face masks in your day to day life. However, this isn’t a reason to stop wearing them. Luckily for us, maskne is easily treatable, unlike many cases of COVID-19.
Many people associate acne with hormonal changes, which is why many people experience it around puberty and throughout adolescence, but maskne is a different type of acne, known as acne mechanica. This type of acne causes spots and pimples to appear as a result of friction and blocked pores, and it can be irritating, itchy and sore.
The main purpose of wearing a face mask is to stop droplets from entering the environment – protecting those around you. However, those droplets that are created by talking, breathing, coughing and sneezing don’t just disappear – they become trapped behind the mask, creating a humid and warm environment that’s ideal for the growth of bacteria. With all this added moisture as well as friction from the fabric rubbing against your skin, your pores become more prone to blockages from oil, sweat or bacteria, and when this happens, it can result in pimples or whiteheads that may become inflamed, sore and itchy.
Maskne generally only tends to happen in the areas of your face that are covered by your mask, and some of the most common places to notice pimples include the chin, around the lips, at the sides of your nose, and even on your cheeks.
Maskne can be experienced by anyone that wears face masks – not just those that suffered with acne during their teenage years. This type of breakout is unrelated to hormone levels, and many people endure it, regardless of age or sex.
How to prevent maskne
There are several ways to prevent acne mechanica, and whilst you might not need to try all of them, taking a look at the following tips will help you to make sure that your masks stay hygienic and your skin stays as clear as possible.
What type of mask should I wear?
Whether you use disposable masks or reusable ones is completely up to you, as both have benefits and advantages. Disposable masks are easier to change more often due to their nature, but these can be bad for the environment and create more waste. However, whilst reusable masks are more eco-friendly and often customisable, without enough of them, you may be stuck wearing the same one for hours, leaving you at risk of trapping more bacteria throughout the day.
This isn’t to say that reusable masks should be avoided though, it just means that there are some extra steps you should take if this is the route you choose to go down.
It’s always a good idea to have several reusable masks that you can use, as this allows you to change yours more often throughout the day. It might help to carry a small drawstring bag with you to put the used masks in, ready for washing. Changing your mask regularly helps to keep bacteria to a minimum, and also allows your skin to breathe more easily. It’s generally recommended to change your reusable mask once or twice a day.
Don’t forget that the material your mask is made out of can also contribute to your symptoms. If you’re wearing a reusable mask, it’s best to opt for a breathable fabric such as a natural cotton. This can help to reduce the amount of moisture that gets trapped on your skin, and isn’t as irritating as some synthetic fabrics that can cause even more skin problems.
You should also make sure that any mask that you wear fits you right. Too loose and the mask becomes ineffective, but too tight and you risk trapping more moisture and bacteria, as well as added friction against the skin.
How should I wash my masks?
If you’re wearing reusable masks, it’s important to wash them after each wear. Ideally, this means washing 2 or 3 masks at the end of each day, giving you chance to change them regularly. At a minimum, you should have 6-8 masks in rotation to allow for washing and drying time between each wear. Whilst this might sound excessive, it helps to keep your masks hygienic, and can drastically reduce symptoms of maskne that you might be experiencing.
As the material will be in direct contact with your face, you should wash your masks with a detergent that won’t irritate the skin. For some people this means choosing a brand without a fragrance, but generally, if your regular detergent is fine for the rest of your body, it should also be ok for your face masks.
Some people recommend soaking face masks in a diluted bleach solution before rinsing them and putting them in the washing machine, but this step is optional, and should only really be used if the mask is heavily and visibly soiled. For a vast majority of worn masks, you should be able to wash them with the rest of your laundry as normal.
You should always make sure that your mask is completely dry before wearing it, as even slightly damp masks can contribute to excess moisture and symptoms of maskne. For best results, you should allow your mask to dry either in direct sunlight, or on a hot setting in a tumble drier. Once completely dry, they should be kept in a clean and dry area to reduce contamination.
As well as washing your masks, you should also think about washing your face a couple of times throughout the day to rid your skin of oil, sweat, and build-ups of moisture and dead skin cells. This should help your skin to breathe more easily. You can wash your face with plain water, or with a cleanser that contains salicylic acid. However, be aware that if you opt for the latter, it can be quite drying, so whilst these types of cleansers are safe to use, you should be aware of how often you’re applying it to your skin.
Can I wear cosmetics with a face mask?
If you’ve been using cosmetics with a face mask and haven’t experienced signs of maskne, then you may be able to continue with your routine. However, for people that are struggling with symptoms such as pimples, whiteheads and irritation, it’s best to skip the cosmetics for the time being.
Your skin needs to be able to breathe in order to reduce the risk of clogged pores. Some cosmetics can actually increase this risk, and paired with friction and humidity, it can be a recipe for dermatological disaster.
Once your symptoms and spots are under control and you no longer have irritated skin, you may be able to wear cosmetics again in settings that don’t require a face mask, such as in a restaurant or bar, or on a day out in the open air, but to be on the safe side, if you need to wear a face covering, you should save the cosmetics for another time.
How to treat maskne
If it’s too late to prevent maskne, and you’re already suffering from breakouts, irritation, soreness and spots, there are still some things you can do to treat it.
As well as following all of the steps above such as regular mask changes and avoiding cosmetics, you can also buy over the counter treatments to reduce the appearance and soreness of spots. Ideally, you should be looking for products that contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or nicotinamide.
Whilst you might not need all of these, using one or two can seriously help to reduce inflammation and the appearance of pimples. Those that have struggled with hormonal acne in the past may be familiar with these ingredients, but many people that struggle with maskne may not have had to use them before. The good news is that treatments are readily available and have been tried and tested for years – you just need to find the right balance for your symptoms and your skin.
An important tip is to not just go for the highest concentration of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, especially if it’s your first time using either of these ingredients. Both can be quite drying for the skin and you don’t necessarily need much to make a positive difference to your symptoms. Many products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are available over the counter without a prescription.
For example, Acnecide gel contains 5% benzoyl peroxide, and can be bought in most pharmacies, or online through websites such as Doctor4U. Benzoyl peroxide is a type of antibacterial that can seriously reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria that’s found on your skin. As these are known to multiply in humid environments, Acnecide is an ideal treatment for those that are suffering with pimples caused by wearing face masks. However, it’s important to note that benzoyl peroxide can sometimes bleach fabrics, so it’s a good idea to sleep on old pillowcases, and to watch out for bleaching on the inside of any fabric face masks that you wear.
If you do use any treatments on your skin, you should let them completely dry before wearing a face mask, as coverings can often increase the potency of some ingredients, potentially causing skin irritation.
As mentioned in the previous section, you may also want to start using a facial cleanser that contains salicylic acid 2-3 times a week. Daily use can cause other skin problems such as dryness and irritation, but moderate use can help to clean the pores and prevent further blockages.
When cleaning your face, you should use something non-abrasive that doesn’t harbour bacteria. Often, your own (clean) hands are enough to wash your face with, but if you do decide to use a face scrubbie or flannel, you should also wash this after each use to prevent it becoming a petri-dish for acne causing bacteria – the exact thing you’re trying to prevent.
If you’ve tried the above treatments and have had no joy with reducing your symptoms, you should seek advice from your GP, as you may need prescription-strength medication that’s right for your skin.
Give your skin a break
Ideally, you don’t want to be wearing a face mask all day every day if at all possible. If you only have to wear them when you go into shops or supermarkets, you should try to limit your trips to once a week (this also reduces the amount of exposure you have to others). This gives your skin a chance to breathe on the days that you aren’t going into shops.
If you’re meeting up with family, friends, or people in your support bubble, it may be a good idea to do so outdoors if the weather allows. This gives your skin a chance to breathe without the need to wear a face mask.
Masks are an essential part of daily life for the time being, and can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, maskne can be a problem for some people. Luckily, it’s easily treatable with over the counter remedies such as creams and cleansers that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
It’s important to keep your face masks hygienic and wash them at the end of each day, as well as letting your skin breathe to reduce the amount of oil, sweat, and bacteria that can build up and cause breakouts.
Keep wearing your face mask if you’re able to – it might save someone’s life.