‘Maskne’: Why your face covering might be causing breakouts

Board-Certified Dermatologist Dr. Laurie Good explains the science behind face covering-related breakouts and what to do about them

Dr. Laurie Good, Board-Certified Dermatologist

Phone: check. Keys: check. Wallet: check.

Face covering: check.

Wearing a face covering while in public is a statewide mandate that we’re all familiar with by now. At this point, we know how face coverings feel and we’ve established our favorite go-to ones.

Face coverings are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the droplets that are released when we talk, sneeze or cough, thus protecting ourselves and those around us from potential illness. However, for some individuals, these face coverings can cause skin irritation and acne on the face, also coined as “maskne.”

Dr. Laurie Good, board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Regional Health, offered her expertise as to why maskne occurs, practices to avoid it and how to treat it at home if you do find yourself dealing with pesky face covering-related breakouts.

LOOK: An infographic explains the areas of the face that are most affected by irritation or friction from a face covering. 

What causes breakouts?

The lower part of the face — the area covered by a properly worn mask — is the area of the face that is most affected by breakouts, dry skin and irritation, according to Dr. Good. This part of the face is moist to begin with, due to proximity to the nostrils and mouth. When combined with a face covering that traps moisture, an unnaturally humid environment is created that can lead to breakouts.

Basically, moisture buildup under the mask can throw off the natural balance of the skin.

“Normally, the skin has a delicate balance of natural microorganisms that is influenced by things like temperature, PH levels, humidity, medications, cosmetic products, diet and more,” Dr. Good explained. “If that natural balance is disrupted — for example, by wearing a mask — it can lead to things like acne breakouts, seborrheic dermatitis flares, or facial dandruff, and a condition we’re frequently seeing called periorificial dermatitis, also known as perioral dermatitis because it classically affects the skin around the nose and mouth.”

People who are more likely to develop skin reactions to face coverings include those prone to rosacea, as they’re more likely to develop perioral dermatitis, and those already prone to acne, as they tend to have exacerbations from wearing a face covering. It’s important to note that any skin type can develop irritation from a face covering or can have an allergy to ingredients found in certain face coverings.

Sometimes, the materials in masks, especially non-cotton masks, can cause skin rashes due to the friction that is created through rubbing on the skin, especially as the mask moves when one talks. That friction can dry out the skin and cause irritation.

Dr. Good also has seen allergic contact dermatitis due to the materials in masks themselves — this tends to look like an itchy red rash.

How to prevent breakouts

Breakouts are not a valid reason to stop wearing face coverings.

“First of all, it’s important that I state these are not reasons to be exempt from wearing a face covering,” Dr. Good said. “Public health experts have concluded, and logic would support, that masks and face coverings are an important part of protecting ourselves and others against COVID-19.”

With that said, there are ways people can help prevent breakouts related to face coverings, including the following:

  1. When you do not need to wear a face covering — for example, in your own car, at home or outdoors where you can easily be more than 6 feet away from others — take it off.
  2. Make sure to wash your masks prior to wear, in case they were factory-made with formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, which can cause allergic and irritation reactions.
  3. Wash your masks regularly.
  4. Use a gentle cleanser.
  5. Use a fragrance-free moisturizer if your skin feels dry or chafed.
  6. Try to minimize makeup — no one can see that you’re not wearing it anyway!
  7. If you think you might have an allergy to your mask, and you are not a healthcare worker or other essential worker who needs to wear a medical-grade mask, try replacing it with a 100% cotton mask.

At-home treatment suggestions

If you find you’re still getting frequent breakouts from wearing your face covering, there are a few at-home solutions Dr. Good recommends.

Start by using a gentle facial cleanser and wash your face with it twice per day. If you are acne-prone and still notice an increase in breakouts, try a cleanser with a low percentage of benzoyl peroxide with a strength somewhere between 2 to 4 percent.

If wearing a face covering has caused chafing and dryness, try a lightweight, fragrance and oil-free moisturizer such as Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer or CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion.

If skin problems persist, a visit to the dermatologist may be necessary, as patients with perioral dermatitis could benefit from tetracycline-derived antibiotics, such as doxycycline, to clear their outbreaks.

Patients should also visit a professional board-certified dermatologist if:

  • Simple, over-the-counter measures are not helping
  • They are experiencing itching or burning on the face
  • Their breakouts become severe

Dermatologists can help with reviewing your history and through understanding how you are currently taking care of your skin. From there, they can make recommendations or suggest changes to your current skincare routine. They can also prescribe treatments that will help your skin regain its balance if you are experiencing acne, perioral dermatitis or contact dermatitis.

Dermatology at MRH

Memorial Regional Health offers dermatology services in Moffat and Routt counties. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Laurie Good and her team provide full-spectrum skin care for patients of all ages, including children, in Steamboat on Mondays and Tuesday and Craig on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Telehealth options are also available for patients.

Common skin conditions treated by our team include acne, ecz