Maskne is the new acne

The culprits behind #maskne and how to deal with them


These days, you can’t step out of the house without seeing people wearing face masks, which is a good thing as it is proven to help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses.

But for some people, the constant wearing of masks is causing unpleasant side effects: redness, skin irritation, and pimples around areas covered by the masks.

It has become so common that it has been dubbed “maskne” on social media, and even dermatologists admit that they are being bombarded with virtual appointments for this skin woe. 

So how do you treat these breakouts, and prevent them from happening in the first place? Here, two dermatologists break down everything you need to know about maskne.

What exactly is maskne and what causes it?

The medical term for maskne is acne mechanica, and it’s not new—sports figures who wear helmets and chin guards are quite familiar with such breakouts.

“This condition is a type of acne formed in areas due to friction and irritation of fabric rubbing against the skin,” says Dr. Sharmaine Ivy Sun, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist at Chinese General Hospital. “It also happens due to blockage of pores or follicles and build up of oil, dirt, and sweat.”

How can we avoid it?

Prevention is always your best bet. If you are wearing a cloth mask, wash it daily to remove oils and debris, urges Dr. Cristina Co-Aquilino, a board-certified dermatologist at Chinese General Hospital. If you are wearing a disposable mask, try to replace it as often as possible or allow it to air out in between uses.

Considering the type of mask you wear is important. Only you can decide how you want to balance the weight of the mask material with the level of protection it will give you, but Dr. Aquilino recommends cotton masks as they allow the skin to breathe. “Health workers often have no choice but to wear tight-fitting N95 masks to protect themselves. But for the rest of us, it is better to get the cotton masks with a snug but comfortable fit, and with an insertable filter for added protection,” she says. 

Dr. Aquilino says an additional way to prevent maskne is to wash your face regularly. “Cleanse your skin twice a day, morning and night, followed by a fragrance-free moisturizer,” she says. “Use the right moisturizer according to your skin type: gel moisturizers for oily skin, lotions for normal to combination skin, and creams for dry skin.”

How do we treat it when we get it?

If you do end up with maskne, keep in mind that acne treatments can be irritating and you still need to contend with the continued irritation of the mask. Dr. Sun recommends using an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide, with a five percent concentration, not 10 percent.  

Many of us might also reach for products with salicylic acid or clindamycin to treat our mask-induced acne, but that’s a no-no. “Salicylic acid can produce irritation and prolonged clindamycin use will promote resistance or worsening in the long run,” she says. 

Remember, if acne is persistent or worsening, consult a board-certified dermatologist for proper evaluation and management.

Any skincare ingredients to look for or avoid?

After taking off a face mask, treat your skin with gentle care—look for ingredients in beauty products that are pampering and healing. Avoid items that have retinol, alpha-hydroxy acid, and beta-hydroxy acid, says Dr. Sun. “These products are sometimes used for patients with acne, but should only be used under the care of a dermatologist. The use of these products would depend on the condition and needs of the skin,” she says. “Overuse may result in irritant contact dermatitis, which is a type of eczema. Also, do not use home-based chemical peels or pads and facial scrubs, doing so will just increase inflammation.”