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Maskne: How To Care For Blemishes & Irritation From Masks

Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
By Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director
Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
Image by Santi Nunez / Stocksy
December 27, 2021

Wearing a mask is a good thing, full stop: It will help slow the spread of coronavirus and the new variants. However, you might be noticing some skin irritation around the areas where you're wearing it, especially if you're wearing your face mask more frequently now. Yes, the cleverly dubbed "maskne" is back.

There are two types of maskne that can occur when wearing face masks: contact friction and breakouts. They can occur at the same time and on the same person (meaning: not mutually exclusive skin concerns). But they do have unique triggers, and, therefore, they have different treatments.

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What to do about breakouts from wearing masks.

You may be breaking out right now due to a variety of reasons, including stress and changes in your diet. Add face masks to the list of culprits, says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D.: "The occlusive nature of a protective mask creates a humid and warm environment under the mask, which can lead to increased sebum and sweat. And this can lead to irritation, inflammation, and breakouts."

And unfortunately, the area that a mask covers—nose, mouth, and chin—are areas that tend to break out more anyway. So if you are an acne-prone individual, take extra precautions to keep skin clear.

"I recommend washing the face before and after wearing a mask. A gentle cleanser is adequate, or if your skin is particularly oily or acne-prone, consider a cleanser with salicylic acid, which can penetrate into pores and gently exfoliate and remove sebum," says King. "And use a light moisturizer that's noncomedogenic, to support and bolster the skin barrier without clogging pores. Avoid heavy and potentially comedogenic products under the mask area."

Additionally, be sure to spot treat the area at night when needed. Using exfoliating and oil-balancing ingredients (lactic acid, glycolic acid, green tea, niacinamide, and retinol), focus on the areas affected by your increased mask-wearing. This is especially helpful for those who may be experiencing dry skin elsewhere—it is winter, after all—and aren't in need of a full-face overhaul. Remember: You can be selective with your topical use! If you only need blemish care on the bottom half of your face, just pay attention there.

What to do about skin irritation from wearing masks.

As for irritation from friction, "any areas that are tight or rubbing can irritate the skin. Minimize this as much as possible by making sure the areas that contact your skin are smooth and not abrasive and not tighter than necessary to achieve a good seal," says King. "If you notice this kind of irritation after removing the mask, wash the area with water and a gentle cleanser, and apply an ointment."

And ultimately, some irritation may be unavoidable, unfortunately. This just happens when you wear a secure fabric on delicate skin or for long periods of time; because you can't necessarily stop it from happening, your best bet is to soothe it after the fact. It's comparable to hand-washing: Since you can't change the drying nature of hot water and soap, instead you treat dryness with a hand cream after the fact. Take the same approach with your face-mask-induced irritation.

So when you reach for a healing ointment, here are a few ingredient suggestions: Aloe vera is a super-hydrating anti-inflammatory (that's why people love it for sunburns and the like). You can use it on its own via a face mask, as a spot treatment for the areas that are most irritated, or in a sensitive-skin-approved lotion formula. Colloidal oat and oat oil are more nurturing derm-approved favorites that you'll see in many sensitive skin formulas. Finally, ceramides and fatty acids are incredibly healing for the skin barrier.

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The takeaway.

Of course, we want to stress just how important it is to wear masks, especially if you are in public places. If skin irritation occurs, it's perhaps annoying but overall far better than the alternative. Do not use skin irritation or breakouts as an excuse to skip wearing one—simply tend to your skin a bit more diligently right now. If anything, use it as an excuse to try a DIY hydrating treatment or spot treatment for zits.

Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.