Wearing a mask is now more important than ever as the world tries its best to put an end to the global pandemic. With all the major changes that COVID-19 has brought, even little struggles in daily life can feel like a big drain on your mood—for example, dealing with the rise in acne caused by mask irritation, also known as "maskne." Knowing how to prevent mask acne and protect the skin that now lives under a fabric face covering is a real concern for many.

Nailing Down the Cause of Maskne

The cause of standard acne is complex—oils, sweat, dirt, hormones, moisture, and more all combine to create a perfect storm of factors. But many are struggling with increased breakouts in areas where a mask touches the nose, jawline, cheeks, and chin.

"Maskne" is just a catchy name for a form of acne mechanica, a type of acne that occurs from friction, yet another acne factor on top of the sweat, heat, and bacteria you already contend with. Acne mechanica has always been common in athletes and workers who wear heavy protective gear that chafes the skin, but now mask-wearers—acne-prone and otherwise—are experiencing it, too.

Aside from just acne, frequent mask-wearing can lead to dry, irritated skin and the breakdown of a healthy skin barrier. This complicates treatment as certain moisturizing products cause breakouts in some, and certain acne treatments can dry and irritate the skin.

Still, don't despair; there are effective ways to break this cycle and treat your acne. The key is using the right products with ingredients that are effective yet gentle. Here are some recommendations from a Dermatologist.

1. Wear the Right Mask

Stick with a soft, tight-knit, dual-layer cotton mask when possible to minimize chafing caused by rougher fabrics and single-use medical masks. Also, make sure to wash your mask a few times weekly to remove makeup, dirt, sweat, bacteria, and other buildup that can cause acne flareups.

2. Keep Makeup to a Minimum

Avoid heavy makeup and products that can clog pores. Given that half of your face is hidden anyway, foundation and thicker concealers should not be worn. When shopping for skin care items or makeup, make sure the products are "non-comedogenic," meaning they don't clog pores.

3. Be Careful with Harsh Acne-Fighters

Regularly washing your skin with a gentle, oil-free cleanser is the foundation of any acne prevention plan.

Benzoyl peroxide is very effective at decreasing bacteria and inflammation leading to acne. However, it can cause irritation and a burning sensation in some. If you need the benzoyl peroxide, stick with a cleanser instead of harsh leave-on treatments.

Topical retinoids are another family of ingredients that might help but are known to cause dry skin. Speak to your Dermatologist if you think you might require a more intense treatment like this.

4. Exfoliate Gently

Adding in a gentle chemical exfoliation treatment once weekly can help resolve maskne, as well. Chemical exfoliation is a lot more effective and less harsh than scrubs, which can further aggravate existing irritation. Look for treatments with alpha hydroxy acids or salicylic acid as the active ingredient.

If you're dealing with skin that's already damaged, consider a specialized serum with high concentrations of amino acids, which help repair damage to the skin barrier, an often overlooked but all-important component of your immune system.

5. Moisturize the Right Way

A good moisturizer will not only help to restore the skin barrier, but also minimize irritation from acne treatment. Stick to lightweight, non-comedogenic products if you have oily skin. A thicker formulation would work better for an individual with drier skin. Look for active ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide that are helpful at repairing the skin.

Don't Forget the Sunscreen

As a final note, you'd be remiss to leave sunscreen out of your anti-maskne skin routine. Even though half of your face is covered, a daily SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen is still important to protect against drying UV damage and minimize your risk of hyperpigmentation from existing acne. And don't forget to apply to your nose and around your mouth if you plan to remove your mask.

Knowing how to prevent mask acne is half the battle. After that, following these steps and developing good habits will help you rid skin of annoying breakouts for as long as masks are required—and keep it clear for long after the pandemic passes.


  • Dr. Jenny Liu (@derm.talk)

    Dr. Jenny Liu is a board-certified Dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her blog, DermTalkDocs.com, combines her professional and personal passions—dermatology and medicine, medical education, skin care, fashion, and motherhood.

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